From the Ruins of Enlightenment: Beethoven and Schubert in Their Solitude

Univ. of Chicago. Nov. 2022. 272p. ISBN 9780226821634. $50. MUSIC
In 1815, Vienna simultaneously hosted the Congress of Vienna (which established sweeping, impactful changes to the balance of power in Europe) and the powerhouse composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, whose music would have a similarly lasting influence. Musicologist Kramer (emeritus, CUNY Graduate Ctr.; Distant Cycles: Schubert and the Conceiving of Song) writes an effective study of Beethoven’s and Schubert’s output from 1815 to the end of their lives (Beethoven died in 1827 at age 56, and Schubert died in 1828 at age 31). Drawing heavily on the composers’ sketches, drafts, manuscripts, notebooks, contemporary sources, and his own performance experience, Kramer demonstrates an acute ear, an analytical mind, and reasoned opinions. Directed toward readers with a solid understanding of musical form and development, Kramer’s book is a work of rigorous scholarship. It’s not a biography per se, but readers will feel as if they are looking over the shoulders of these musical titans as they create stunning work.
VERDICT Beethoven is said to have said “Art demands of us that we shall not stand still,” and Kramer here effectively demonstrates that similar demands apply to musical analysis and revelation. Recommended for scholars of classical music.
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