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Ten of the Most Beautiful Compositions by Beethoven

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Beethoven's Most Beautiful Music

Ludwig van Beethoven was one of the greatest writers of music to have ever lived. Having written hundreds of compositions, Beethoven has left the world with some of the most beautiful and emotional music that has ever been heard.

Below is a list of honorable mentions and ten of the most beautiful movements of composition written by Beethoven. This is not a ranked listing, and all of the selections are part of larger multi-movement works. It's recommended that you should listen to the entirety of the multi-movement work that each individual selection is a part of in order to put the music into context.

The purpose of a list such as this is ultimately to expose people to Beethoven's music, and the honorable mentions, as well as the ten movements mentioned below, should provide a great introduction to it.

Honorable Mentions

Narrowing a prolific composer like Beethoven's compositions down to ten of his most beautiful pieces of music is, in many ways, unrealistic. There are hundreds of pieces by Beethoven that are moving; however, these ten are meant to get people who don't normally listen to Beethoven or classical music a chance to try to appreciate something new . . . or older in this case.

Beethoven was a composer known for writing very emotional music and for the short intense motifs that were frequently found in his work. The intensity of Beethoven's music matches what history claims was his temperamental personality. Despite the moodiness of Beethoven's character, he did have a softer side, and so did his music.

The honorable mentions are the compositions that didn't make the top ten and are recommended to people who wish to go beyond the ten listed here. The honorable mentions really aren't a complete list either, but for the time being, they are the following:

  • Symphony #7 Movement 2
  • Symphony #6 (The Pastoral) Movement 1
  • Piano Sonata #13 Movement 3
  • Piano Sonata #14 (Moonlight) Movement 1
  • Violin Sonata #5 (Spring) Movement 2
  • Piano Trio #6 Movements 1 and 3
  • Violin Concerto Movement 2
  • Fidelio - The Prisoners Chorus
  • Missa Solemnis - Sanctus
  • Fur Elise

1. Piano Sonata 15 (Pastoral) Movement One

Pastoral pieces were popular during the Baroque Era of music, and they were usually written to musically depict scenes of nature. Beethoven's 15th Piano Sonata is not only a pianistic depiction of nature but a nostalgic testament to a bygone era.

The first movement of this sonata uses a lot of pedal tones in the harmony and repetitive musical figures to help to depict the serene beauty of nature through music. The Pastoral Sonata gives listeners the feeling that they are walking through the countryside, or at least a part of the natural world. Surrounded by nature and all forms of life that are good and green, this sonata is a musical testament to the beauty that can be found on our planet.

2. Piano Trio #7 (Archduke) Movement Three

Written and named for the Archduke Rudolph of Austria, a major contemporary supporter of Beethoven's music, Beethoven's 7th Piano Trio was his longest and most ambitious for this type of chamber ensemble.

The third movement of this trio begins with a haunting chord progression played by the piano. Periodically the violin and cello join in with a sorrowful accompanying melody. The middle section of this movement livens up the movement giving listeners the feeling that the music may transcend through the sadness . . . but it never does as the haunting chord progression plays out the rest of the movement, slowly dying away.

3. Piano Sonata 8 (Pathetique) Movement Two

The Pathetique Sonata is arguably the first truly great and timeless masterpiece written by Beethoven. The second movement is still an often heard composition, making its way into a number of films and other forms of popular media.

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The second movement provides a beautiful contrast to the dark first movement and spirited final movement of this sonata, giving it even more of an emotional impact to listeners when it is listened to with the other movements of the sonata. The slow, lyrical, and song-like melody dominates most of the work. It's interspersed with contrasting sections that differentiate itself from the lyrical theme, but never really deviate from the pervading feeling of tenderness that is expressed throughout the movement.

4. String Quartet 14 Movement One

The opening movement to the string quartet Beethoven considered his best is also arguably one of the saddest movements ever written by the composer. This movement is a slow fugue. The sorrow and melancholy builds as each voice enters and as each string instrument delves further into their respective registers.

The counterpoint is masterful, and trying to follow all of the melodic voices simultaneously is impossible to do. All of the sorrowful subjects and counter-subjects simply overwhelm the listener. The ending is cruel as the movement moves from minor to major, but the major ending ironically adds to the sorrow, almost like a pitiless form of sarcasm.

5. Piano Sonata 31 Movement Three

The third movement to this piano sonata has two slow, serious sections that Beethoven had called arioso. Each arioso is interrupted by a fugue, the second of which is the same as the first but is inverted. The serious sections begin slowly, leading into a pulsating chord progression, while a beautiful but serious melody plays over the top.

The fugues which almost seem to enter out of nowhere, quicken the pace and begin by introducing subjects that seem to reflect on light-hearted merriment. However, the merriment changes in the first fugue as the music transitions back into the slow and serious arioso. The second fugue leads to a dramatic conclusion that ends on a more triumphant sounding note.

6. Symphony 9 Movement Three

The often-overlooked third movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony begins by introducing listeners to a longing and loving theme first heard in full by the strings. This theme is not heard again until it is quoted briefly in the opening of the fourth movement of this symphony.

Beethoven takes his love theme and embarks the listener on a journey made up of musical variations of love. In many ways through the love theme and the variants of it that follow, Beethoven could be suggesting, through music, the various ways people are able to love one another.

7. Piano Sonata 30 Movement Three

The full effect of this movement is best realized when listening to the two movements that precede it. The two previous movements of this sonata have short motifs that are the basis of the theme of this movement. The first time listeners get to hear the short motifs cultivate into the theme that is at the beginning of the third movement.

The third movement of this piano sonata is a theme followed by six variations. The theme kind of resembles a loving lullaby. The theme and variations in many ways are like a dream, and each of the variations is a different part of the dream world that is being described by the music.

This dream world includes loving and supportive themes alongside fast-paced and intense themes that never quite transcend into nightmares but are nevertheless still emotionally forceful. The return to theme after all the variations are performed is even more powerful than after you hear it for the first time.

8. Piano Concerto 5 Emperor Movement 2

Beethoven's 5th Piano Concerto was arguably his greatest concerto. The second movement of this concerto is another Beethoven work that frequently makes its way into mainstream media projects (The ending of The Kings Speech). In concertos, usually, the piano and orchestra each split up the melodic content, but in this movement, the melody is played purely by the orchestra while various variations of the melody and accompaniment figures are played by the piano.

A beautiful melody played by the orchestra starts this concerto. The melody and the movement are written in a major key, but Beethoven constantly ends this melody with a deceptive cadence (in layman's terms, he is ending it on a minor chord). This cadence is one of the most powerful aspects of this movement, every time the music and melody suggests a heroic rise, this cadence comes in and kills it, literally. That heroic rise you're waiting for doesn't happen until the start of the third movement, which this second movement sets up perfectly.

9. Piano Sonata 29 Hammerklavier Movement 3

The third movement of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata helps to balance the rest of the sonata by acting as a deliberate and poignant contrast to the forceful and passionate outer movements. Beginning in a minor key like the previously mentioned String Quartet #14's first movement, this sonata also ends similarly with a major chord, again giving the movement a kind of ironic ending.

This movement creates an ethereal musical effect. It is surrounded by great sadness and pain; Beethoven's personal suffering is realized and expressed through his mastery of music composition and in one of his darkest movements of piano music.

10. String Quartet 15 Movement 3 A Prayer For Thanksgiving

After suffering from a serious illness towards the end of his life, Beethoven's recovery, which he deemed miraculous, inspired the writing of his 15th String Quartet. For surviving the ordeal, Beethoven decided to thank God in the best way he knew how, through music. The full title of the third movement of this string quartet, A Convalescent's Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, is Beethoven's personal thank you to God for seeing him through a life-threatening illness.

The quartet works with some short hallowed motifs in a chorale-like setting that suggest a rebirth. In the alternating sections that pick up the tempo, Beethoven writes in the score, "with renewed strength." Consequently, these sections are realized as sections that are performed with a greater escalation of liveliness. The whole movement has a divine sentiment and aura attached to it. The emotional impact of this movement is more than just inspirational; it is awe-inspiring.

What Is The Most Beautiful Music You Have Heard By Beethoven?

Christine Musselman on August 07, 2019:

Thank you for the tribute. For me, there's Beethoven, then there's all the rest. I'm sorry that the third movement of the Archduke trio was no longer available when I happened by this site. Of the recordings that were available, I have comments about two: the third movement of the Ninth and the third movement of the Hammerklavier. Usually, I only listen to the full work, not just movements. However, your choices gave me the opportunity to hear the third movement of the Ninth as a stand-alone. When you hear an entire opus by Beethoven, it's so easy to become overwhelmed with all the wonders throughout that sometimes you don't fully hear the beauty of a single movement. I've studied the Ninth, including the third movement, but never listened to it without the other movements. It's amazing that Beethoven wrote such a beauty that could stand alone by itself but was just one part of a whole masterpiece. His latter works were wonderous. No less so the Hammerklavier. The third movement touches one's soul like no other music ever written. It might be dangerous to assign meaning to it because none of us can know what he was experiencing at the time. However, i feel he is conveying the deep sadness and utter resignation at the end of his life that he was never fully able to love and be loved. The Immortal Beloved may have returned his love, but because of her social standing they would not be able to marry. (I lean toward Brentano as the likely candidate, although I'm not up to date on the latest scholarship.) And yet, through the pain Beethoven may have been experiencing, he never lost the nobility of spirit that touches all of us when we hear his music. Nobility of spirit. To me, that defines his true greatness.

Carlos Bas on October 21, 2018:

The Benedictus of the Misa Solemnis.

Roberto Silva on October 08, 2018:

Symphony #6 (Pastrol)

Robert Erickson on September 01, 2018:

the 9th symphony

Gene Martin on April 18, 2018:

The beauty of Beethoven is that you can listen to his pieces a number of times and always discover something different, something incredible, something totally new that was never done before. Because of this I'd say that I can't choose the most beautiful as I'll discover something else tomorrow. I will say that as much as I love Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Haydn, etc etc I love Beethoven the most. I believe that he is the greatest Composer that every lived! I do not limit this to Western Classical but to all the genres I love, which includes, Rock, Jazz etc.

Steffi Greggson on September 04, 2017:

I think Beethoven is the best composer known to man, as he was deaf in part of his composing career

Sydney on May 24, 2017:

Personally, I think you left out of Beethoven's best known pieces such as Moonlight, Appassionasta, Pathetique movement 3....... and Symphony No.5

Delia Almestica from United States Virgin Islands on December 22, 2016:

Beethoven is known for his excellence in compositions. I love his work(:

Anthony on September 14, 2016:

Not listed even in honorable mentions is Piano Concerto no. 4, which some critics consider the greatest piano concerto period.

Music-and-Art-45 (author) from USA, Illinois on February 05, 2013:

Hello cuttler thanks for stopping by and commenting. Beethoven's ability to compose masterpieces after he had lost his hearing is a miracle. I agree, especially as Beethoven entered his later period of composition, a lot of his contemporaries were unable to appreciate the music he was writing.

Cuttler from HubPages on February 04, 2013:

Beethoven is my best composer of C-Music. I especially admire how he was able to continue composing even with his hearing loss. It is said that most of his compositions were too modern to be appreciated by the peoples of that time. However now he is a living legend amongst us classical enthusiasts. Pure genius doesn't describe him enough. Am bookmarking this page for future reference. Thanks for sharing

Music-and-Art-45 (author) from USA, Illinois on January 06, 2013:

Thank you Shelly for sharing and commenting I hope this hub was beneficial.

Shelley Watson on January 06, 2013:

What a wonderfully put together tribute to Beethoven - your explanations and details are absorbing and something on which to reflect while marveling at his virtuosity. Thank you and sharing too.

Music-and-Art-45 (author) from USA, Illinois on December 21, 2012:

Hello Carol Thanks for sharing and commenting. I've played Fur Elise, too.

carol stanley from Arizona on December 21, 2012:

I am a Beethoven fan...And of course if you every played the piano you know Fur Elise This is an excellent review of his best work. Voting Up and pinning.

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