Beethoven: A Political Artist in Revolutionary Times

Univ. of Chicago. Nov. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9780226669052. $35. MUSIC
Pianist and composer Kinderman (music, Univ. of California, Los Angeles; Wagner’s Parsifal) adds to his shelf of well-regarded contributions to the Beethoven literature with this appealing title focusing on how the political and philosophical movements of the late 1700s to early 1800s influenced the composer’s creative development. Avoiding the well-trodden path of traditional biography, the author instead addresses important milestones in the composer’s life and career chronologically by invoking a universe of figures surrounding Ludwig van Beethoven, from his older musical contemporaries Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, to some lesser-known painters and authors with intriguing and sometimes suspense-filled stories, to titans of the Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Kant, Goethe, and Schiller. Focusing on a handful of works for detailed musical analysis, Kinderman explores nuances within tonalities, rhythms, and tempos as well as choice of vocal texts to show Beethoven’s affinity for notions of resistance and liberty and his regard for classical allusions such as the Prometheus myth.
VERDICT Kinderman’s exhaustive scholarship and fluid style combine with up-to-date references to issues such as systemic repression and other provocative topics, which should resonate with both academics and informed general readers.
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