Ludwig van Beethoven was baptized on December 17, 1770. (This is the only date that was recorded, so no one knows his exact birthday!) He published his first set of compositions, or written instrumental works, when he was only 12 years old. Soon after, Beethoven began touring Europe as a piano prodigy. He performed for royalty and learned from famous composers like Joseph Haydn. He even competed in improvisational piano contests to show off his skills.
Over the course of his life, Beethoven wrote more than 700 musical works. Many of those, including his famous Fifth Symphony, were written after he became deaf in 1802. He spent years working on each piece to make it perfect. “Just like a mathematician has to solve math problems, Beethoven solved musical problems,” says David Levy, a Beethoven scholar and professor of music at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Almost 200 years after his death in 1827, Beethoven’s music is more popular than ever. Beethoven set the standard for every composer who came after him, according to Levy. “Some of his best-known music is based on the simplest ideas, like the Fifth Symphony,” he adds. “You feel it in your gut how powerful it is.”