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Lewis Lockwood's Beethoven: the Music and the Life is a tremendous portrayal of this great composer. Lewis Lockwood is a highly recognized expert on Beethoven and is a Professor of Music at Harvard University. The book was a finalist of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize. In the book, he goes into great detail about almost every one of Beethoven's pieces. He does so in a fashion that encompasses the theoretical aspects of the music, what was occurring in Beethoven's personal life and the political and historical situations at the time of his compositions. The book also includes several illustrations that consist of portions of compositional sketches, handwritten letters, and portraits of influential people in Beethoven's life. With the use of letters, conversations books and sketchings, some of which are over two hundred years old, Lockwood provides an intimate glimpse of Beethoven.
The book is divided into four different parts that cover different eras of Beethoven's life. The first discusses Beethoven's childhood up until he moved to Vienna and the other three are about Beethoven's stages (or as Lockwood refers to them, maturities) as a composer. Each part starts with biographical information, but then moves on to the musical descriptions of his Beethoven's pieces, of which Lockwood discusses all known works. I found it surprising that his life could be divided so concisely, but in actuality, this form is tremendously helpful and gives the reader a greater understanding of the evolutionary development of Beethoven. Some have criticized the book for its traditional format and its lack of innovation, but I find the layout of the book fitting and unobtrusive.
Seeing Beethoven as both a man and a musician/composer, there is consequently a juxtaposition of these two views and throughout the book, Lockwood flips back and forth in order to keep a sense of chronology. Even within these views, there are several sides to Beethoven that Lockwood expresses. In the book, there are times when Beethoven, as a person, comes off as a lonely bachelor that deeply loved the women in his life but regretfully never was able to maintain a long-lasting relationship. But Lockwood also writes about how Beethoven's cold, strict parenting in effect caused his nephew, Karl, or as Beethoven referred to him as his "adopted son", to attempt suicide. After which, Karl sought comfort from his mother, whom Beethoven had driven him away from. As a composer, he is shown as both the artist that deserves infinite praise. Yet Lockwood also portrays him as the creator of musical drivel in order to make a profit in exchange for a sense of his own integrity for example when he composed "Wellington's Victory" (Lockwood 339). These various sides of Beethoven as a man and as an artist seem completely natural for a character as complex as Beethoven's and for music that is so powerful and philosophically deep. At certain points, these two views do get mixed and integrated into each other, which is what I believe that a biography of an artist should be based upon.
A reoccurring theme that arises throughout the book (and Beethoven's life for that matter) is the Romantic notion of overcoming adversity. Lockwood accurately sums up the effect on Beethoven from his deafness when he writes, "As a man he found himself imprisoned by deafness. As an artist, he broke free, continuing on a trajectory marked by significant acts of renewal and stages of stylistic transformation" (122-3). Lockwood wisely avoids playing up the Romantic ideals that embodied Beethoven. Instead he tries to present Beethoven as truthfully and real to life as possible with the sources available. Even though many Romantic artists are glorified by the status as an artist, Lockwood gives praise when it is deserved. The intention of the book is not to worship Beethoven, but it is rather to paint an accurate portrait of Beethoven in the various periods of his life.
Another theme that arises throughout the book is the influence of his predecessors, which Lockwood conveys well. It is interesting to see that Beethoven had the same anxiety of influence due to Mozart as just about every future Romantic composer had about Beethoven. In these instances, he comes off as more human than the composing giant he often seems. Personally, I find it much more interesting to identify with a person than to see him from purely an academic standpoint especially in the case of non-fiction reading which can be dry and unappealing if done solely for academic purposes. We, the reader, are also given this window into Beethoven as a person with his depression from the loss of hearing, the struggle of gaining custody of Karl, and his poor attempts at maintaining a normal father-son relationship with him.
There is a general bias that pieces from the last maturity are better than everything he wrote before. I think that it is difficult to compare the two because there is such a difference in quantity. Certainly the Ninth Symphony and other late pieces are incredible works of innovations that integrate influence of early composers like Bach and Handel. But I felt that some of the earlier works deserved more focus than they were given. For instance, in Chapter 20 there are thirty pages devoted entirely to the topic of the Ninth Symphony, which covers a political background of the piece, the varying interpretations of the piece in the present day, a look into the composing process and the "character" of the piece. Meanwhile, the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies are grouped together in one section. Each is given a subsection, which are each about seven pages. These tremendous works of Beethoven's are discussed for about a fourth of the time that the Ninth is. I understand that the Ninth is an incredibly influential symphony that still has effect today, but I don't think that has the power to overshadow his earlier important works.
Overall, the book seems to be intended for both the casual reader and the specialist on the topic. Lockwood conveys the intricacies of Beethoven's personal life like his relationship with Haydn, the women of his life, and his family life. Despite how long ago Beethoven's life took place, the preservation of various documents that were actually written by Beethoven allow the reader to almost enter into a conversation with the man. A fairly vague psychological survey seems to emerge from this biographical portion of the text. However, the focus of the book is on the music and the brilliance of his compositional skills. In a sense, he implies this with the title in the ordering of the words "music" and "life". At some points, the music theory that the reading entails seems difficult for the less scholarly reader, but Lockwood restrains from using overly technical terms and keeps it at a rudimentary level that if the reader were to listen to the pieces as they read about it, they would be able to establish an understanding of the text. But this goes for just about any writing on music because it much easier to have a clear grasp of a piece of music if the reader listens to it before or after reading about it than if they only read about it.