First-class history, and a fascinating exposition of forensic science.



An engrossing tale of an odd subject—a chance snipping of Beethoven’s hair and its perilous journey into the 21st century.

In 1827, on his deathbed, Ludwig van Beethoven was visited by his friend, the composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel. In tow was Hummel’s talented 15-year-old pupil, Ferdinand Hiller, who was, not surprisingly, thrilled to be presented to the musical genius. On a subsequent visit some days later the two found the great man dead. The awestruck Hiller asked and received permission from Hummel to clip a lock of the deceased’s hair, a common practice in those days. Hiller, the son of a well-off Jewish merchant who had converted to Christianity, became a competent, but now mostly forgotten, composer. He had the lock framed and treasured it the rest of his life, presenting it to his son Paul shortly before his death in 1885. From that point on, the history of the lock remained murky until a few years ago, when it ended up in the joint possession of two Arizonans with the unlikely names of Ira Brilliant and Alfredo (“Che”) Guevara. In this quirky but enjoyable work, Martin (Out of Silence, not reviewed) sifts through the evidence he has unearthed and provides a highly entertaining and believable account of what happened to the lock during those missing years—amounting to a thumbnail biography of Beethoven that is eventually overshadowed by an account of the Third Reich’s persecution of the Jews. While some might object to this as gimmickry, Martin pulls it off, owing to his solid research and respect for the reader. While obviously enthusiastic, he never goes over the top. He suggests answers to numerous riddles, but he does not insist on their solutions, letting the reader decide. When, toward the end of the book, the author writes of DNA tests on the hair that reveal new answers to the causes of Beethoven’s deafness and death, even the skeptic will share his enthusiasm for this peculiar subject.

First-class history, and a fascinating exposition of forensic science.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-7679-0350-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2000

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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