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CLASSICAL  August 2009

CLASSICAL August 2009

Subject:

Lockwood's Beethoven

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 18 Aug 2009 16:41:01 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Beethoven: The Music and the Life. By Lewis Lockwood.
New York & London: W.W. Norton.  c2003. 604 pages.

Note the word order in the subtitle.  This excellent book is about
Beethoven's music and Beethoven the composer.  Chapters alternate between
life and works in chronological order but over two thirds of the book
concerns the music, its composition and its analysis.

Compared to other biographies there is relatively little about Beethoven's
non-musical concerns or activities.  For instance, there is a five page
section entitled 'Relations with Women,' but, just to cite one comparison,
a biography of Beethoven published a generation ago by George R.  Marek
has a chapter, 'The Women in Beethoven's Life' which runs nearly a hundred
pages.  Lockwood's accounts of Beethoven's concern for his nephew Karl
are brief also; one does learn that even Beethoven's obsession with Karl,
and Karl's attempted suicide a few months before Ludwig's own death, did
not destroy Beethoven's ability to continue concentrated work on one of
his final quartets.  Beethoven's deafness is of course discussed, but
there is next to nothing about his final illness and death.

Interesting details of Beethoven's life that Lockwood does provide
succinct information about include a significant amount about his dealings
with the young Archduke Rudolph, Beethoven's only composition student
(some of whose works are available on recordings) and most faithful
patron.  If, from other accounts, one has difficulty distinguishing
Schindler from Schuppanzigh, this account will make them come more to
life.  Also, Beethoven's early years in Bonn when, by default, he was
in effect head and support of his family, are interestingly described.

There is no skimping when it comes to the music.  Lockwood, the Fanny
Peabody Research Professor of Music at Harvard, who previously published
Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process and was co- editor of Beethoven
Essays: Studies in Honor of Eliot Forbes and as co-editor of Essays in
Musicology is intimately familiar with Beethoven's sketch books and other
manuscripts and is eminently qualified to discuss this music.  As it
happens, he writes clearly and well, so that it can be read profitably
by a wide range of readers, from the serious concert-goer to the
musicologist.  It does help to have at least a rudimentary understanding
of musical theory, particularly about key relationships, but it is not
necessary that the reader be able to read music, as he includes very few
lines of score, and those in Beethoven's own hand.  One might compare,
for instance, the several pages of Lockwood's prose concerning the
Hammerklavier Sonata with the long section in Charles Rosen's The
Classical Style, the bulk of which is quotation of score passages.

Lockwood emphasizes the works he considers important inherently or
innovatively.  He has high regard for the even-numbered symphonies,
especially two and eight, which are too often slighted by others.  He
refers often to the first Razumovsky Quartet, Op. 59, no. 1, in addition
to discussing it in detail.  He gives ten pages to the Missa Solemnis,
twenty to the Ninth Symphony, and nearly fifty to the last quartets.

One practice some readers may find annoying is that although he refers
to the symphonies and piano concertos by number, he identifies the sonatas
and quartets only by opus numbers and key.  A satisfying bit of information,
though, is that the works identifiable by WoO numbers (which conveniently
designate, in both German and English, works without opus numbers) are
not simply early unpublished works from Beethoven's Bonn years but works
written throughout Beethoven's career that were intended for purchase
by amateurs but which the composer did not wish to list as significant
works.

One very interesting section of his book, which particularly illustrates
the currentness of Lockwood's scholarship, is Chapter 18, 'Bringing the
Past into the Present,' which gives an account of Beethoven's knowledge
of Bach and Handel and his great interest in the fugue.  Beethoven wrote
a number of fugal movements, strikingly in the Hammerklavier Sonata and
the C# Minor Quartet, as anyone familiar with them knows, but it long
was said that Bach was virtually unknown and forgotten in the classical
period.  Lockwood mentions that even Mozart was influenced by Bach.

A professor I once knew remarked about book reviews that if the worst
thing the reviewer could say is that on page 415, say, there is an error
of fact, then you can be sure that a really good book is at hand.  The
one mistake I find in this book is that Lockwood gets the French Revolution
of 1830 wrong - and since this was after Beethoven's death and unconnected
to him he need not even have mentioned it.  This is a terrific book.

Appendices include a chronology, a bibliography, a classified index of
Beethoven's works, an index of his works by opus number, as well as a
general index.

Copyright 2009 by R. James Tobin

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