Beethoven is often referred to as a revolutionary. Part of this image is due to the fact that he grew up during a time of great social and political upheaval. Although he was only six when the American colonies rebelled against the British, he was well aware of the revolution in France and closely followed Napoleon's rise to power. Much of Beethoven's music can be interpreted to reflect his interest in the struggle for personal and political freedom. This struggle is blatantly clear in his opera Fidelio and the Ninth "Choral" Symphony, but it can also be heard in abstract music such as the Fifth Symphony.

After receiving a solid musical education from his father (a professional musician) and a local organist, Beethoven went to Vienna to study with the great composer Josef Haydn. From all accounts, though Haydn recognized Beethoven's genius, the clash of temperaments was intense and the lessons ended after several weeks. From his first published compositions, a set of three Piano Sonatas (his Opus One), Beethoven mastery of what is now called "the Classical style" is amply demonstrated.

Beethoven's artistic life is divided into three periods. In his "early period", Beethoven explored the important genres of his day, producing his first two symphonies, the six String Quartets, Opus 18, and the first fifteen of his thirty-two Piano Sonatas. The "middle period" works show Beethoven expanding the Classical forms beyond their previous expressive capacities. For example, the Third Symphony (Eroica), is not only considerably longer than any symphony before it, but is dramatic in a way that changed the essential nature of the form itself

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