BEETHOVEN by John Suchet
Kirkus Star


The Man Revealed
Age Range: 1770 - 1827
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A comprehensive, moving biography of arguably the world’s greatest and most well-known composer, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827).

For the many readers lacking the proper background in musical theory, British broadcaster and Beethoven authority Suchet’s explanations of Beethoven’s music sing to us almost as if we could hear it. Knowing of Beethoven’s deafness—his hearing began to deteriorate in his mid-20s—teaches us that the truly great can hear music in their brains. For the rest of us, we rely on exposure to the joy of hearing the music and the kindness of those who will explain it to us without impugning or offending our intelligence. To suggest that Beethoven was eccentric is being kind. He was unkempt to the point of slovenliness, and his unpredictable temperament and manic gestures and yelling during his walks were only accepted because of his well-known brilliance. At the same time, nothing impeded his creativity, as he produced some of his best work in times of war, ill health and extreme poverty. Only the years of legal battles over the guardianship of his nephew taxed his powers, a situation that was never really resolved, only postponed. Suchet examines Beethoven’s creative process over the years, especially in regard to the writing of his only opera, Fidelio, which premiered in 1805. The author’s moving description of the heart-rending melody in one of the legendary composer’s works brings us to a greater appreciation of the man: “It is a lift, marked sotto voce, which seems to take the soul with it. After a development, the first violin then falls a sixth. It is heartrending. When you believe Beethoven cannot increase the intensity any more, he writes pianissimo quavers for three strings, and then the first violin…weeps.” In the postscript, Suchet writes that “musicologists know where the source material is,” but he provides a brief list of recordings for curious lay readers.

Kudos to the author for this deeply moving, outstanding biography.

Pub Date: Dec. 10th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8021-2206-3
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2013


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