Beethoven - The Man Revealed

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  • Author:
    John Suchet
    This is a paperbook from the same series by the same author as the Mozart book I reviewed recently. John seems now to have made his career with Classic FM and they provide marketing for his books.

    Our household has a constant discussion as to whether Beethoven or Mozart is the best composer ever, and having read this book I stick with my opinion that Mozart wins, not just on music but on being a better human being. Beethoven had a tough start in life, with an alcoholic father, and his talent made him extremely single-minded, to the point where today he would probably have been considered to be on some sort of autistic spectrum. His behaviour towards his generous sponsors, his family, his doctors and those who provided him with accommodation, often free, was well outside what we could consider normal. His persecution of his sisters-in-law, because he didn’t like them and didn’t want his brothers to marry them, was cruel, as was his behaviour towards his nephew Karl, a lad of no musical talent, whom Ludwig tried to force into a musical career when he wished to join the Army. He never married, and the stories of various women he tried to be close to make one sad, but his lack of success with women is all linked to his inability to form proper relationships with other people.

    The book is well researched and written in an easy style, and there is plenty of first-hand material to support the anecdotes which are related. I loved the one where the deaf Beethoven conducted the first performance of the Ninth Symphony, with a real conductor standing behind him for the orchestra and singers actually to follow. At the end of the performance, he conducted on, and had to be turned around to face the audience to see the applause.

    Although the book is well written and full of information, I didn’t enjoy it, as it tells the tale of a very nasty man. His health issues were great, and medical practice was not very good at the time, so he was often in pain, but he seems to have had a truly unpleasant streak (described on the blurb as a ‘complex character’). On the whole I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t one to which I shall return with pleasure.

    Beethoven fans will learn a lot about him, his homes, and what was happening in his life as he wrote each piece of music, but this book is really one for the enthusiasts. I expect ‘him indoors’ will love it.

    Three mushroom heads.

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  1. BaronBoy
    Mozart a better composer than Beethoven!

    Heresy sir. I think I have an attack of the vapours coming on.

    Yes, he would have been a mean bugger to have to deal with, let alone live with and his chronic ailments would only have been part of the story. He was a child of the enlightenment as Bonn was the centre for such radical thoughts but he had to go to Vienna to make a living as a composer and Vienna was probably the most antithetical to such radical thoughts as the enlightenment. Witness his dedicating the 3rd symphony to Napoleon and then scratching out the name, to the point of tearing the page, when he heard that Napoleon had crowned himself emperor. Yet he had to deal with the nobility on a day to day basis.
    1. Grownup_Rafbrat
      Opinions differ as to the merits of composers and their behaviour. However one fact is incontrovertible. I am not a gentleman, and would therefore prefer ma'am to sir please. :)
      Grownup_Rafbrat, Jul 21, 2017
    2. BaronBoy
      It just doesn't sound as good......Heresy ma'am!

      Apologies, I shall consider myself as having received a good ticking off.
      BaronBoy, Jul 21, 2017