From the poise of "The Moonlight Sonata," to the bombastic euphoria of "Ode To Joy," to the intricate architecture of the late string quartets, few forces in Western music so keenly translated the drama of human experience into sound as well as German-born Ludwig Van Beethoven. Fine praise for the most widely recognized member of the "Three B's" (with Bach and Brahms), but the notoriously disheveled, cantankerous genius would likely repay such a compliment by tossing an inkwell at your head -- if he heard it at all.
Born in December 1770, Beethoven's body of work is divided into three eras: the early period, where he emulated great predecessors Haydn and Mozart, the middle period, where his encroaching hearing loss led to large-scale, defiantly heroic orchestral works including the famous "dun-dun-dun-dah!" Fifth Symphony, and the late period, which yielded works of immense intellectual depth from a composer who existed in a world of near-total silence. Beethoven ushered out the Classical period with the back of his hand and fathered the Romantic era. By his death in 1827, he had left an indelible mark on the history of Western music.