BEETHOVEN ESSAYS by Maynard Solomon


Email this review


Solomon's Beethoven (1977) remains a landmark volume in musical biography--for its scholarly brilliance, of course, but perhaps still more for its controversial application of psychoanalysis to the composer's life and art. So a volume of Solomon essays on Beethoven is a welcome arrival, even if it turns out that much of the material here actually pre-dates the biography, having appeared in the 1970s in such scholarly journals as Music & Letters, The Musical Quarterly, and The Music Review. The psychoanalytic approach is persuasively featured in several pieces: Beethoven's stubborn confusion about his birth date is explained by his grim family-history, as are his pretensions to noble ancestry; four dreams are interpreted as the ""cry of a child for his parents' love."" Excessive jargon--""the fraternal introject,"" etc.--mars an other, wise intriguing close-up of Beethoven's obsession with his dead older brother; and most readers will remain skeptical about the suggestion of ""some obscure psychosomatic mechanism"" in the onset of the composer's deafness. On the other hand, it is Solomon himself who chastises a psychoanalytic study, Beethoven and His Nephew, for going too far, for losing sight of the whole man (including his creativity). And, in ""thoughts on Biography,"" a forceful case is made for the blending of life-history, psychology, and music-criticism. Elsewhere, Solomon offers relatively straightforward scholarship: two essays on the true identity of the ""Immortal Beloved""; a summary of Beethoven's wide-ranging attempts to find a tenable religious faith; notes on his qualified radicalism, by sympathies with Schiller; a densely annotated version of ""the Tagebuch,"" the composer's 1812-18 diary. More diverting, however, is a wry piece that charts the origins of a supposed Beethoven statement on his ""creative process""--and links it to a similarly dubious pronouncement by Mozart. And most challenging is Solomon's 30-page essay on the Ninth Symphony--which combines musicology and psycho-biography to analyze the work as a ""search for order,"" for an ideal father and an ideal world. Largely for specialists, then, but full of rewards for anyone interested in biography, psychology--or Beethoven.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
ISBN: 0674063791
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press