Beethoven: The Relentless Revolutionary

Norton. Jul. 2019. 512p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780393242553. $39.95. MUSIC
That Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) was revolutionary as a musician and a composer, there can be no doubt. That the era's revolutionary fervor had a profound influence on him, as it did on all those who lived through it, is likewise well understood. Even so, it is an ambitious challenge to connect these two themes explicitly, to assert, for instance, that one can hear strains of fraternité in his cantata on the death of Emperor Joseph II. Clubbe (The English Romantic Poets; Froude's Life of Carlyle) eschews musicological and biographical analysis, rightly observing that Beethoven has already been subject to plenty of both. But the author's attempt to examine Beethoven's work through the lens of cultural history is overly reliant on speculation and incorporates a great deal of historical summary and description of other artistic developments of the period while failing to make evident implicit or explicit links between these and Beethoven's work.
VERDICT A disjointed and often frustrating reading experience, with moments of real insight. For devoted Beethoven fans.

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