Beethoven: Variations on a Life

Oxford Univ. Aug. 2020. 160p. ISBN 9780190054083. $18.95. MUSIC
Examining the life and work of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) through multiple lenses, this slim volume is as much about perceptions of the composer—both during his lifetime and afterward—as it is about Beethoven himself. This is inevitable: A great deal has been written about Beethoven, much of which has wrestled with the substantial lacunae in our knowledge of him. Bonds (music, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) makes no substantial pronouncements on just where to draw the lines between the three periods of his creative output (though he agrees that there are three), or just who the Immortal Beloved actually was (however, the author does have some opinions on the 1995 film of the same title). Instead, Bonds addresses the penumbra of Beethoven’s influence, and how his work elicits insights into the man whose legacy is often overgeneralized. If Bonds fails to draw any grand conclusion, this is perhaps to be expected; given that Beethoven was devoted to his art above all else, in the end, his music must speak for itself.
VERDICT An incisive, accessible, and witty treatment of a musical genius. For fans of all stripes, from the casual to the academic.

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