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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Standard PC biographyMarch 22 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
It's true that certain amount of conjecture is necessary in a post-humous biography, and it is equally clear that a good biographer must be able to present also his educated take on the circumstances - but where is the line of what is too much or what is reasonable? In the sand, of course, and in this case the writer oversteps more than enough. Not that he strictly oversteps with his own ideas so much as he oversteps by attempting to present everything in Beethoven's life in relation to the times and by making every single conjecture safe and Politically Correct.
For example, that Beethoven said he never learned anything from Haydn, he dismisses by stating that Haydn's symphonies couldn't have not made an impression on him (yes, he actually doesn't offer any real supportive evidence that Beethoven was lying or exaggerating). Be that as it may, i'd rather take Beethoven's own word on it - this is not a reflexion on Haydn, but rather that the "development" of music is not so much a linear procession as scholars would like to suppose (to be sure, i am absolutely certain that remove anyone at all, or anyall at all, from the golden line of development of music and music today would still be if not the same, of same quality (insofar as we have quality music.)) This whole example serves as a reminder of how we are constantly taught to worship "great men" by being reminded of how important they truly were. Nonsense, says me. The graves are filled with men irreplaceable. In general my opinion is that as much as the live's of other people are our business at all, if they choose to colour it in a certain way or not, that is certainly how we should take it.
Another example would be that in mr. Matthew's opinion Beethoven's lack of discipline (call it willfulness, individuality, or whatnot) was due to his lack of proper upbringing. Ha-ha. Well you hit the nail on the head there, mr. Matthews. "Upbringing" to large part is indoctrination to a certain social mold, and any "lack of discipline" is in reality a triumph of spirit (now it is my conjecture that Beethoven surely would have agreed) - especially in such a restrictive society as in Beethoven's days (not that i am so certain it was any more restrictive than ours today.)
Anyways, the book is thus unpleasant to read, and heavy to follow if one wants to learn anything significant about Beethoven the man without the filter of mr. Matthews prejudices/agenda.
The attitude and style of writing in the run-through of Beethoven's compositions is similar, and i found it cumbersome to follow (i am not a musicologist and have no theoretical knowledge of it, apart from what i've read from other books meant for listeners), and admit i didn't force myself to read all of it. However, there are other wonderful books on this subject, too.
i give the book two stars because it did make me wonder about how many undiscovered geniuses there must have been (though i acknowlege directly the book had nothing to do with such musings), possibly some even greater than Beethoven, or anyone else, who for one cultural reason or another have never become, our of their own choise or by influence of external circumstances, public knowledge. Not that it's important, but the realization gives a certain healthy perspective to hero-worship.