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Beethoven: The Universal Composer

de Edmund Morris

Sèrie: Eminent Lives (5)

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259976,959 (3.77)3
Beethoven was a genius so universal that his popularity, extraordinary even during his lifetime, has never ceased to grow. It now encircles the globe: Beethoven's most famous works are as beloved in Beijing as they are in Boston. Biographer Morris brings the composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence. A gigantic, compulsively creative personality unable to tolerate constraints, he was not so much a social rebel as an astute manipulator of powerful and privileged aristocrats, at a time when their world was threatened by the rise of Napoleon. Struggling against progressive, incurable deafness (which he desperately tried to keep secret), he nonetheless produced towering masterpieces. Morris illuminates Beethoven's life, including his interactions with the women he privately lusted for but held at bay, and his work, whose grandeur and beauty were conceived "on the other side of silence."--From publisher description.… (més)
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Interesting and disappointing. Interesting, because Beethoven's life was pretty interesting. Disappointing, in that it's a pretty shallow look into his life. No new scholarship; it doesn't even bring up the new thoughts about what killed Ludwig (lead poisoning). Disappointing, too, in that I remembered who Edmund Morris is. He's the guy who wrote Dutch, the bio on Reagan that's part fiction. Makes we wonder what he added to Beethoven's life, although he got the skeleton right, from what I know about the composer.

And this opening exchange really set me on edge:

The British playwright Enid Bagnold once asked a feminist what advice she would give to a twenty-three-year-old housewife who, having lost four children, found herself pregnant again by an abusive, alcoholic husband.
"I would urge her to terminate the pregnancy," the feminist replied.
"Then," said Ms. Bagnold, [wait for it] you would have aborted Beethoven."

ARGH!!! So, a rightwing sycophant had to inject his politics into a biography in which they didn't belong. Fortunately, that's the last he brings anything like that up, but it was still annoying. ( )
  MFenn | Apr 22, 2018 |
Interesting ( )
  ibkennedy | Feb 11, 2018 |
A very good short biography of Beethoven. Best to intersperse recordings of Beethoven's works between chapters. ( )
  nmele | Jan 19, 2014 |
Mainly interesting because it's about the fascinating figure of Beethoven. Morris seems to revel in the technical details of the works, but I'm not really an expert so those passages were lost to me. Still, a rather well written biography that succeeds in creating an image of the personality of Beethoven. ( )
  WorldInColour | Oct 12, 2013 |
Before preparing to dig into Beethoven: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris, you’d be well advised to stock up on a fairly complete collection of his works to accompany your reading. Written by Edmund Morris, this brief biography of the man who is arguably the world’s greatest composer is filled densely with commentary, not only on his life, but upon his very compositions.

Seamlessly weaving together Beethoven’s life and art, Morris (himself a pianist and private music scholar) gives at least equal page space to the music as much as he does to the man. Well researched, readers are steered through Beethoven’s life while avoiding most conjecture, and as forgery is separated from fact, conjecture from the concrete.The author’s skilled guidance is much appreciated by one with little knowledge of the composer’s life outside of caricature-like character sketches.

Still, it is easy enough to become bogged down in the technical descriptions of Beethoven’s sonatas, symphonies, quartets, and so on, as the number of his works multiplies exponentially throughout his life. Even with the aid of the period-appropriate glossary of musical terms to guide the uninitiated through these descriptions, I struggled to ‘hear’ the compositions that were referenced by name and written description alone. Clearly describing music with the written word is a difficult task at best, even for the most accomplished of authors.

Morris also firmly places Beethoven in history, clearly illuminating his influences, the turbulent political climate he lived through, and the nobility that offered him patronage and hospitality (if not true understanding) throughout his lifetime.

More captivating to me, however, were Morris’ descriptions of the man himself: passionate, driven, and very much the social misfit. Morris draws no gentle veil across the face of one of history’s geniuses, and with an artist so clearly human, he never shies away from the contradictions so common in a human life. Beethoven, while he composes religious music in his later life, is both devout and faithful with daily prayer and theological studies; at the same time he continues to frequent prostitutes while harboring a secret love for a married woman. Clearly, this adult-level biography is best suited for older readers, though the text is never explicit or vulgar.

Though Morris clearly strives for only what can be historically shown, he clearly attributes Beethoven with not only the wild behavior in his later years that he is so associated with, but also with a deeper torment of the soul. Some of the book’s most poignant and emotionally powerful passages are those relating to Beethoven’s final years – his increasing paranoia, his failing health, and his wild emotional inconsistencies.

Amusingly, Morris at times abandons clear readability in exchange for artificially (and at times repetitive) puffed-up vocabulary. When combined with long passages describing the technical merits of Beethoven’s music, this can result in some slogging through the text on the part of the reader. Still, I found this work more readable and engaging as it progressed, and as I in turn came to know the man it described more closely. For the curious general reader, there is certainly enough of Beethoven here to satisfy.

Reviewed at quiverfullfamily.com ( )
2 vota jenniferbogart | Apr 21, 2010 |
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Beethoven was a genius so universal that his popularity, extraordinary even during his lifetime, has never ceased to grow. It now encircles the globe: Beethoven's most famous works are as beloved in Beijing as they are in Boston. Biographer Morris brings the composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence. A gigantic, compulsively creative personality unable to tolerate constraints, he was not so much a social rebel as an astute manipulator of powerful and privileged aristocrats, at a time when their world was threatened by the rise of Napoleon. Struggling against progressive, incurable deafness (which he desperately tried to keep secret), he nonetheless produced towering masterpieces. Morris illuminates Beethoven's life, including his interactions with the women he privately lusted for but held at bay, and his work, whose grandeur and beauty were conceived "on the other side of silence."--From publisher description.

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