Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born in Bonn of Flemish descent. His earliest musical training was with his father, who was a singer and a hard man whose decline into alcoholism made Ludwig the virtual head of the family during his teenage years.
In 1787 at the age of 16, he briefly met Mozart in Vienna. He had travelled there from Bonn with the express intention of taking lessons from the famous master. However, he had only been there two or three weeks when he heard that his mother was seriously ill, so he returned to Bonn. Some sources claim that he had a few lessons from Mozart at this time, but there no evidence backed up by any correspondence, so this is most likely to be untrue. Neither the Oxford Companion to Music, nor the Harpers Dictionary of Music, asserts this claim, but here is a quote from the New Grove Dictionary of Music:- "In the spring of 1787 Beethoven visited Vienna. In the absence of documents much remains uncertain about the precise aims of the journey and the extent to which they were realized; but there seems little doubt that he met Mozart and perhaps had a few lessons from him." (Kerman)
A year after Mozart's death, in 1790, he moved to Vienna permanently. He studied with Haydn and Salieri, and he became familiar with Mozart's works. In Vienna, which at this time was the most important musical city in Europe, Beethoven rapidly established himself as a virtuoso pianist. His pianistic supremacy was rarely challenged. He was admired for his amazing powers of improvisation.
He contributed much to the development of the symphony and other musical forms. He was the first of the great freelancers, in that he did not have paid positions under the patronage of a rich nobleman as did his predecessors Mozart and Bach. He did have some noble patrons, but he was never an employee. These include Count Waldstein in Bonn, to whom some music is dedicated, and Prince Lichnowsky. In 1808 Archduke Rudolph started paying him regularly, but as a patron, not as an employer.
Beethoven started to have hearing difficulties in 1797, at the age of only 27. This made it increasingly difficult to continue as a pianist, and he finally stopped playing publicly in 1815. During his later years he was stone-death, and this put him often into a state of near-suicidal depression. However he kept going impelled by his own creativity as a composer. He wrote "it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me'. His deafness made him behave with eccentricity and wildness.
Following on from Haydn and Mozart, Beethoven's style was classical. However, he started to create the romantic style with the Eroica symphony, and this became strongly evident with his 6th Symphony, 'The Pastoral'.