Posted by & filed under Composers, Student Features.

Linda Jenkins

What do you think of when you hear the name ‘Ludwig van Beethoven’?

Maybe it’s the iconic opening figure of his Symphony 5 (think: dundundunDUNNNNNN from a sample of these performances).

Or his famously thunderous countenance:

Image of Beethoven with score and pencil

Joseph Karl Stieler, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Beethoven is one of the most celebrated composers in Western classical music. In his lifetime, Beethoven enjoyed a privileged lifestyle as the musical darling of Vienna’s aristocracy. Unlike many of his predecessors, such as Joseph Haydn, he was not tied to a royal court and still managed to be financially successful through the support of aristocratic patronage. His contributions to form and harmony across the genre directly inspired composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. To this day, Beethoven remains one of the most frequently programmed composers in the United States. In a study of participating orchestras across America from 2000 to 2012, Beethoven was the most programmed composer in all but three seasons. And for the seasons he wasn’t first on the list, it was a close second to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (League of American Orchestras, 2020).

On the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, some scholars are examining the mythos surrounding Beethoven and have chosen to recognize Beethoven’s birthday in alternative ways, such as identifying lesser known works of Beethoven and unrecognized works of others (Wilson, 2020).

Regardless of how people are choosing to reflect on Beethoven at his 250th birthday, two and a half centuries later, Beethoven’s body of work still speaks to the concert-going public. What makes his music so impactful? Let’s explore some of his background and musical influences.

Early Life

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770 to a musical family in the town of Bonn, Germany. Both his father and grandfather were musicians in the choir of the archbishop-elect of Cologne; so, like most of the working class at this time, Beethoven was born into his profession. Beethoven took violin and piano lessons from his father Johann, who hoped his son would be seen as a child prodigy a la Mozart. Johann even passed his son as younger to mirror Mozart’s debut age, a fact that Beethoven himself only found out as a young teen ( Editors, 2020).

Around 1780, political shifts and new appointments resulted in Bonn becoming a thriving city of culture with a newly established university and an influx of German renaissance literary minds like Goethe – widely considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era (Boyle, n.d.). It was in this environment that 12-year-old Beethoven became the assistant to Christian Neefe, the appointed court organist and Beethoven’s teacher (Knapp, 2020).

Over the next ten years, Beethoven was able to make important societal connections. The first important family in this network was the house of the late Joseph von Breuning, who hired Beethoven to teach two of their children piano and to perform for a variety of social events. Beethoven acquired a number of wealthy students and patrons through the Breunings, including the Count Waldstein (whose name you might recognize as the dedicatee to Beethoven’s famous Waldstein Sonata, opus 53). Beethoven even composed a ballet score for the Count to pass off as his own composition, although it was well-known to be Beethoven’s work. This ballet ended up being his ticket out of Bonn when, in 1790, London-based composer Josef Hadyn saw the score while staying with the arch-bishop. Haydn was impressed enough that he invited Beethoven to study with him in Vienna when Hadyn returned from his London residency (Budden, 2020).

Beethoven in Vienna

Beethoven received a warm welcome from the Viennese aristocracy, his reputation as a performer preceded him thanks in large part to Count Waldstein who heralded Beethoven as the successor to Mozart. With the support of wealthy patrons for food and lodging, Beethoven was able to fully cut ties with the Electorate in Cologne in 1794.  

In his composition studies, Beethoven worked with Haydn on piano, Antonio Salieri for choral composition, and counterpoint with organist Johann Albrechtsberger. In 1795, he performed his public debut recital in Vienna with a program featuring his piano Concerto No. 2, Opus 19, as well as works by Mozart and Haydn. Around this time Beethoven was also able to publish a set of Trios to a long list of subscribers. Beethoven’s symphonic debut in Vienna occurred in 1800 and featured a performance of his Symphony No. 1, a piano concerto, and the Septet (Opus 20) alongside works by Mozart and Haydn ( Editors, 2020).

Musical Influences

Working in the Breuning’s household, Beethoven was introduced to the literary movement ‘Sturm und Drang’, which is defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica as a “German literary movement of the late 18th century that exalted nature, feeling, and human individualism and sought to overthrow the Enlightenment cult of Rationalism” (The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.).

In music, this movement translated to grand and sudden contrasts of tempo and dynamics aimed at expressing vast extremes of emotion. Beethoven’s affinity for improvisation is heavily reminiscent of his study of this movement, as well as the work of C.P.E. Bach.

Other early musical influences came from Bonn’s proximity to the city of Mannheim and the Mannheim Orchestra, the first orchestra comprised entirely of elite players, who had strong ties to Paris. Beethoven supported the French Revolution and greatly admired Napoleon Bonaparte. Beethoven’s Third Symphony was originally dedicated to the French military leader but, upon hearing that Bonaparte had declared himself Emperor of France, Beethoven changed the dedication to “for the memory of a great man”, and renamed the symphony “Eroica(Budden, 2020).

Heiligenstadt and Beethoven’s Second Period

The turn of the 19th century marks a shift in Beethoven’s compositional style. Around 1800, his writing becomes more nuanced and widens in scope, using large musical forces in new and unconventional ways. Until this point, his works were mostly for solo piano and conformed to the musical forms and rules of the time (Budden, 2020). A major reason behind this shift is Beethoven’s growing realization that he was going deaf. As this illness progressed, his efforts moved from solo performances to composing. He began to avoid public gatherings, confessing in an 1801 letter that he “leads a miserable existence…because [he] find[s] it impossible to say to people: I am deaf.” ( Editors, 2020). This internal turmoil came to a head in the poignant note Beethoven penned in 1802 while taking a respite in the country village of Heiligenstadt titled “The Heiligenstadt Testament”. Addressed to his brothers, it also outlines a basic will and was kept in a private drawer to be discovered after Beethoven’s death. An excerpt from this unsent letter reads:

“O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me. You do not know the secret cause which makes me seem that way to you and I would have ended my life — it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me” (Beethoven; Thackara (Ed)., 1902; 1979).

Beethoven returned home from Heiligenstadt and continued to compose in a fervor. The next period of composition (~1802-1814) is considered his most productive era, producing six symphonies, his only opera (Fidelio), four solo concerti, five string quartets, six-string sonatas, seven piano sonatas, five sets of piano variations, four overtures, four trios, two sextets and 72 songs ( Editors, 2020).

Beethoven’s Private Life

Financially and artistically, Beethoven was extremely successful. However, in his personal life, Ludwig van Beethoven struggled to maintain relationships with his patrons, fellow musicians, and relatives. He was infamously temperamental, prone to being incredibly defensive, and thus constantly feuded with those around him. Beethoven never married, although he is rumored to have been in love with multiple female students. Upon his death, along with the “Heiligenstadt Testament”, secret letters addressed to the “Immortal Beloved” were found hidden away in Beethoven’s desk. The identity of the recipient is still unknown, and each letter is labeled only by month and day ( Editors, 2020).

More on Beethoven

We have so much information about Beethoven’s life and musical output thanks to the letters, journal entries, and notebooks left behind after his death in 1827. Want to read more? Here are some online resources from UNT’s online library catalogue:

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph: a biography by Jan Swafford

Beethoven the pianist by Tilman Skowroneck

Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna (1792-1803) by Tia DeNora


Beethoven, L.V.; Thackara, W.T.S. (Ed.) (1802; 1979). The Heiligenstadt Testament of Ludwig Van Beethoven: Notes by W.T.S. Thackara. The Society. Editors, 2020. Ludwig van Beethoven: c. 1770-1827. Biography.

Boyle, N, (n.d.). Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Budden, J.M., (2020). Ludwig van Beethoven: German Composer. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, (n.d.). Sturm und Drang: German Literary Movement. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Knapp, Raymond. Ludwig van Beethoven: German Composer. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

League of American Orchestras, (2020). ORR Archive.

Wilson, J. (2020). Celebrate Beethoven by resisting ‘Beethoven’: how to programme concerts for the great composer’s 250th anniversary. Classical Music from BBC Music Magazine.

Edited by Kristin Wolski

Posted by & filed under First Chair Chats.

Linda Jenkins

Catch up on our most recent First Chair Chat on the UNT Music Library Blog! In November’s chat, we were joined by a fantastic panel of musicians from the Denton area to discuss local music. The episode is coming soon to our First Chair Chats page.

First Chair Chats is a series hosted by the UNT Music Library. Panelists from the UNT community and local area come together to address a specific topic and answer audience questions. Previous Chats have included special guests John Murphy, Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Jazz Studies Division at UNT and Emmy Award Winning composer Julie Giroux.

In this month’s topic about local music, we were happy to welcome Dr. Brian Wright from the Music History department in the College of Music, who served as the discussion host and moderator, along with the following panelists from UNT and the local Denton music scene:

  • Maristella Feustle, Music Special Collections Librarian and local musician
  • Nick (Frederick Nichelson), local musician and entrepreneur
  • Justin Lemons, Lead Preservation Tech at UNT Special Collections and local musician/audio engineer
  • Kelly Evans, Cataloging and Metadata Assistant and local musician
  • Christopher Walker, Administrative Coordinator at UNT Jazz Studies and local musician
  • Chad Withers, General Manager of Rubber Gloves
  • Dave Huff, Sound Preservationist at UNT Music Library and local musician/audio engineer
  • Ramon Muzquiz, local musician

Coronavirus and Local Music

The first question posed by Dr. Wright had to do with how COVID-19 has affected each of our panelists. As you might expect, local gigs and festivals completely shut down in mid-to-late March. Bassist Frederick (Nick) Nichelson’s band Fingerprints travels regularly and gigs throughout the year; he estimated over 100 performances were cancelled. This gave him time to focus on the back-end of the business, helping artists he represents through Nichelson Entertainment, and beginning a project called ‘Artist Fundamentals’ geared to teaching musicians about the business aspect of their careers.

And this is the trend across the board: each of our panelists talked about work that was cancelled after they’d been booked and projects stalling in the planning process. In the meantime, many of them have been pursuing passion projects or taking a break from playing. In a follow-up answer to a question from the audience, Ramon Muzquiz, local drummer, had this to say about his experience through the pandemic:

“As someone who has generally played as support for others for years I am finally pushing myself to write my own music which has also pushed me to record myself, something that I have generally not done, as well as recording for others. I have also benefited greatly from stepping away from my instrument, it’s true that our brains keep working on stuff even if we aren’t actively thinking about them.”

INDUSTRY FACT: Many live music jobs are slightly different in that the artist gets paid after the fact, it may or may not involve a written contract, and if the event is cancelled then the artist rarely receives compensation.

How Can you Support Local Music in Denton (and Beyond!)

Our panelists all agreed, the best way to support your local music scene is to listen/stream/download their music! Here are some other ways to support your local music community (links below):

  • Buy their merch! Many local musicians have tip lines, CashApp, or merchandise available through their band pages and websites.
  • Support local arts initiatives. Find out what’s happening in the community and get involved!
  • Donate to local/state/federal arts fundraisers. 



Looking for some more local music? Check out the UNT Music Library’s LIMIT project, an initiative to collect and preserve the vibrant local music culture of North Texas.

The chat on local music will be available soon on the First Chair Chats news page, along with a full list of previous First Chair Chats with links to the recorded webinars. The series will return in the spring with a chat on video game music — we’re looking forward to it!

Edited by Kristin Wolski

Posted by & filed under Events.

Welcome to the UNT Music Library Blog! We’re so excited to share information on important musicians and composers, keep you up to date with new and notable materials at the library, share some of our favorite playlists, and much more. Today’s post is all about opera!

What is opera?

This art form combines elements of dance, music, drama, and art. It’s a dramatic story told completely through song. All of the music is performed live by the vocalists and an orchestra, and no mics or additional amplification is needed. Some of the most well-known stories have been turned into opera, like Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. Opera can trace its roots back to ancient Greece, where plays would incorporate song and dance. The first operas were composed in Florence, Italy and quickly gained popularity across Europe. They are often based on a pre-existing work that serves as the basis for plot and libretto (the words/text).

New to opera? Here are four classic works for you to enjoy:

The Marriage of Figaro by W.A. Mozart
La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini
Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Carmen by Georges Bizet

These operas and more can be streamed online through the following UNT Libraries music databases:

Opera in Video

Music Online: Classical Performance in Video

Met Opera on Demand

OPERA FACT: Opera singers can project over a full orchestra because they sing at a different frequency.

UNT Opera

Live opera faces a unique challenge under current social distancing protocols and UNT’s Opera Department is using this opportunity to be innovative, putting a twist on Gaetano Donizetti’s classic Lucia di Lammermoor. The story follows Lucia and Edgardo, secret lovers who belong to two opposing houses in Scotland. Lucia’s brother Enrico forces her to marry another nobleman, claiming Edgardo has married another woman, and Lucia slowly loses her sanity. She eventually goes mad, kills her husband Arturo in their bed, and dies. Edgardo, learning of her death, kills himself in order to reunite with her in heaven.

Under the direction of Jonathan Eaton and Willem Van Schalkwyk, musical director, UNT Opera shares:

“Donizetti’s beloved bel canto masterpiece is interpreted in a whole new Covid-compliant concept: Lucia finds herself at the beginning of the opera in an isolation ward, surrounded by plastic curtaining; she relives the events that led up to her madness, and try as she might to make meaningful contact with others, no-one will come within nine feet of her… the time is the present. This production will be performed live in front of an invited, masked audience only, who will be seated according to social distance guidelines” (UNT Opera).

We reached out to Nini Marchese (soprano), one of the vocalists performing in the title role, to comment on the unusual circumstances this production is facing and what she hopes the audience will take away from the performance:

“The social distancing practices, definitely unusual for any of us, have inspired some incredible creativity for this show. You won’t find another like it! Unique to this production, Lucia will be performed by two sopranos and is dually set in a mental hospital and within her mind. The audience will not only see Lucia, a young woman, in an impossible situation driven to madness – but also how she perceives the traumatic memories playing out before her eyes. I think this take is so refreshing and touches on a hugely relatable theme during this era of COVID and quarantine – the human need for connection. I am so thankful that we are able to work together within the recommended guidelines, and create opera.”

Lucia di Lammermoor performances are November 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30pm, November 8 at 3:00pm. If you’re interested in attending live, email the opera department ( for permission and ticketing information. Streamed performances can be viewed on November 21st at 7:30pm and on November 22nd at 3:00pm on the UNT Opera page.

Opera Advertisement. Picture of two Lucias.


English National Opera. “The Beginner’s Guide to Opera.”

University of North Texas Opera. “Introducing the 2020-2021 Season.”

Stage Agent. “Luccia di Lammermore: Characters.”


Posted by & filed under Digital Collections.

Merritt Johnson (1902-1978) was a pianist, organist, and composer on faculty at Northern State College (now University) in Aberdeen, South Dakota; having studies with the likes of Josef Lhevinne and Darius Milhaud in addition to earning degrees from Oberlin, he was head of the NSC piano department for twenty-five years and played in the symphony orchestra there for forty-five.  He was also organist and Choir Director at Bethlehem Lutheran Church during that time. In addition to teaching and performing (and being Dean of the South Dakota Chapter of the American Guild of Organists), Johnson was also fairly prolific in composing and publishing: he was the first South Dakota composer commissioned to create a work for the National Music Teachers Association.  He once learned that his compositions had been used in the Moscow Conservatory of Music and throughout Europe, as well as in Turkey, Alaska and Canada. Johnson’s daughter Mitta Angel has been a violist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1965 and Dr. Susan Vaughan (one of his students) recently became a resident of Denton, hence a project to digitize Johnson’s music was undertaken at the UNT Music Library. is a link to the collection in the UNT Digital Library, which includes:
  • Chord studies and technique books for piano
  • Anthems for mixed chorus in vocal score
  • Compositions for both organ and piano
  • Transferred LP recordings of piano, organ and choral music
Since this project was done with the approval of Johnson’s family, all items are digitally available open access; their physical counterparts are being cataloged and added to the UNT Music Library’s collection. Efforts are also underway at Northern State to digitize Johnson’s manuscripts, with an eventual plan to share the digital content between the two institutions. We sincerely hope this effort brings Johnson’s music to the awareness of more people, so please feel free to share! Merritt Johnson

Posted by & filed under Events.

Friday, April 22nd & Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

Willis Library Forum (140)

  Founded in 1941 by Anna Harriet Heyer and Wilfred Bain, the University of North Texas Music Library has become one of the largest academic music libraries in the United States and has served as a fruitful training-ground for many highly successful music librarians. To celebrate its seventy-five years of activity in collection development, cataloging, and user services, the UNT Music Library will sponsor a symposium focusing on various themes relating to music libraries and music librarianship. In addition to paper or panel sessions, we will schedule concerts and social events. Attendees will also have the opportunity to explore the print, media, and special collections holdings of the UNT Music Library. Please consider joining us for this very special event! Registration is $50 and includes coffee breaks on both days, as well as a reception (admission to concerts is free). Contact Mark McKnight for more information.

Posted by & filed under Piano Rolls.

In this inaugural post, we are happy to present the first in a series of videos featuring our Model B Ampico Knabe reproducing piano, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Troika”, No. 11 from The Seasons (Op. 37a): This piano and over 5,400 rolls (as well as thousands of CDs, 78s, cylinders, etc.) were donated in 2013 by the estate of Joe Morris, a Dallas collector of sound recordings and vintage playback machines.  You can see the full list of piano rolls at Suffice to say we’ll be uploading more videos of piano rolls in performance on a regular basis!