SAT essay evidence: Ludwig van Beethoven

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I recently mentioned that, when it comes to the evidence you use for your SAT essay, you should both prepare your examples in advance and write about things you like.

I am now going to reveal to you something:

Ludwig van Beethoven – yes, “that Beethoven,” the deaf, old-school, crazy-haired composer of old – is my number-one hero and inspiration, bar none.

I love his music, I love his story, I love how much he struggled and how much he succeeded. He’s the man. And his piano sonatas are the best music ever written for the instrument.

In short, Beethoven is my man.

So, I’d be very pleased to follow my own advice and write what I know. Beethoven is an excellent example to use for a variety of essay themes, and like Copernicus, is totally underused by students. So if you enjoy music, particularly classical music – or, just a good, human story – Beethoven might be prime evidence for you to use on your SAT essay.

Ten facts about Beethoven that are relevant to an SAT essay prompt:

1. Beethoven was a German composer and multi-instrumentalist (he was known mainly as a pianist but played string instruments as well) that lived from 1770-1823.

2. He was a child prodigy forced to excel at music from a young age by his father, who wanted to turn a profit by exploiting this “second Mozart”

3. After some initial success as a young composer, Beethoven realized he was going deaf in his late 20s; he feared the shame and humiliation of being “that deaf composer” and could have extreme difficulty forming fulfilling relationships due to the isolation of his deafness, along with a variety of health ailments.

4. As his deafness and health problems worsened, he seriously contemplated suicide. What held him back in the end was a feeling of moral and artistic responsibility – he felt that he couldn’t give up until he had produced all the art of he was capable of, for the benefit of society and those who would follow him, even through the fog of his depression and frustrTation.

5. As a composer, he wrote masterpieces of music that have survived for centuries, some of which were composed when he was stone-deaf. This still boggles my mind every time I think about it. He was so skilled at his craft that even without being able to hear his music, he penned works that had an incalculable influence on later composers, performers, and listeners.

6. His musical style bridged the Classical tradition and the emerging wild, emotional artistry of the Romantic period. He is seen as the link between these two periods, uniting them and transcending easy categorization.

7. He was supported largely by the patronage (money for music) of wealthy and noble music lovers who understood and appreciated his great talent.

8. He believed in, and expressed, the equality of mankind – he considered himself equal to princes and royalty (on one occasion he stepped in front of a royal procession, a big social no-no), and wrote his 9th Symphony to celebrate human brotherhood (you know part of it as “Ode to Joy”).

9. He wasn’t perfect by any means – he fought a vicious, even dirty, custody battle for control of his nephew without real consideration of the boy’s best interests.

10. Some of his most profound, unique, and influential pieces (written in the last years of his life) were scorned and misunderstood in his time.

Five possible SAT essay themes that Beethoven relates to:

1. Tradition vs. Advancement (Beethoven deeply honored the masters and music traditions that came before him, but he restlessly explored groundbreaking new ideas and developed new pathways, styles, and techniques)

2. Self-sacrifice/struggle as a characteristic of greatness/success (Beethoven wanted to end his misery as he became increasingly sick and deaf, but believed in his obligation to Art so strongly that he gave his whole life in service to his ideals, and went down in history for it)

3. Do some people deserve special treatment; are all people created equal? (Beethoven would not accept a lesser status than the princes and royalty he associated with, and he believed that a royal title alone did not deserve respect. On the flip side, the nobility did give Beethoven special treatment – by not punishing him for insubordination and rudeness that would have gotten anyone else in big trouble. So you could use Beethoven to argue either side of this topic)

4. Is long-term progress due to individual “geniuses” or is it a product of larger social forces? (Beethoven probably makes the case that brilliant individuals are responsible for the progress and advancement of society, because no one but him could have written such unique music and had so powerful an impact)

5. The persecution of ideas that are “ahead of their time” (Beethoven’s later music was so advanced, unique, and futuristic that even the listeners and critics that loved him were extremely negative about his new style. It took many years before the genius-level quality of these works was accepted)

Beethoven makes a great example of SAT Essay Evidence

Beethoven is a great example for topics that deal with struggle, creativity, social progress, success, and duty, as well as any topic that involves respecting authority (or not respecting it, as in Beethoven’s case).

Plus his music is just so. dang. good. Try the 3rd symphony, the 5th symphony, and the “Pathetique,” “Appasionata,” and “Les Adieux” piano sonatas, if you get curious!

Any Beethoven-lovers out there in the audience?

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