Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces

Yale Univ. Oct. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780300254587. $35. MUSIC
This year marks the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven’s birth, though most of the worldwide celebrations have been canceled or postponed or have gone virtual. Nevertheless, Tunbridge (music, Univ. of Oxford) honors her subject, bringing him to life in the context of nine of his compositions. Each chapter has three elements: a theme (heroism, family, friends), a piece of music (Symphony No. 3, Piano Sonata No. 29), and the period in Beethoven’s life during which a piece was composed. In one chapter, the author considers An die Geliebte alongside Beethoven’s relationships with women, analyzing his letter to the “Immortal Beloved.” In another, she mulls the Hammerklavier and Beethoven’s relationship with his family, including his nephew, over whom he and his sister-in-law engaged in a protracted custody battle. Over the years, scores of Beethoven biographies have been written, some of which have fostered a number of myths about him. Tunbridge’s impeccably researched, elegantly written volume sets the record straight. Readers will appreciate helpful features including “a note on Beethoven’s finances,” “a note on musical terms,” and a generous selection of suggestions for further reading.
VERDICT Music students and aficionados alike will appreciate this engaging and accessible portrait of the composer.
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