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Lewis Lockwood's "Beethoven: the Music and the Life" (2003)is an outstanding introduction to Beethoven, aimed at the nonspecialist rather than the scholar. Those readers who are new to Beethoven's music will find this book a guide to his major work. Readers familiar with Beethoven's music and life will find much to learn and enjoy as well. I found this a book to be savored. Reading the book, I think, will encourage the reader to explore further the inexhaustible richness of Beethoven's music.
Lookwood concentrates on Beethoven's compositions and on their historical and musical contexts. He does not offer a full biography of Beethoven but rather offers only sufficient broad outline of Beethoven's life to give a sense of the composer and to allow the reader to reflect upon the relationship between the life of Beethoven and his music. Lookwood himself has some interesting things to say on various views of this relationship. (pp 17-21)
Lockwood sees Mozart and Bach as Beethoven's primary musical influences. As a young composer, Beethoven both set out to learn from Mozart without becoming an imitator. His early works are greatly influence by Mozart, Lockwood argues, until Beethoven breaks away and finds his own voice in what Lockwood terms Beethoven's second maturity. As Beethoven continued to compose, his work becomes more influenced by the counterpoint of Bach. (Beethoven had played Bach's "well-tempered clavier" as a boy of twelve.) Bach's influence becomes increasingly apparent in the close-textured and fugal works of Beethoven's third maturity.
Lockwood basically organizes his book in terms of what he describes as Beethoven's first, second and third maturities of musical development. In each case, he begins with brief details of Beethoven's life, followed by a substantial overview of Beethoven's work and influences in each period, followed by a description of some of the major individual works of the period. For the period of Beethoven's first maturity, Lockwood finds the apex of Beethovens' work in the six opus 18 string quartets.
For Beethoven's first and third maturity Loockwood approaches the works chronologically. Interestingly, for the second maturity, Lockwood organizes Beethoven's work by type: the symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, string quartets, etc, to account for Beethoven's tendency during this time to work on many various compositions simultaneously.
Some of the individual works receive little discussion in Lockwood's approach, but this is more than balanced by his excellent overviews of Beethoven's varying styles. Of the early and middle maturity works, Lockwood discusses well Beethoven's third through eighth symphonies, particularly the Eroica. But he does not see Beethoven's work at this time as predominantly "heroic" in tone. Unlike some writers, Lockwood gives good attention to Beethoven's lyrical, melodic, and reflective writing during his second maturity as exemplified by the even-numbered symphonies and by works such as the violin concerto and the cello sonata in A, opus 69. Loockwood emphasies as well the lyrical aspect of Beethoven's writing in his detailed consideration of Beethoven's song-cycle "An Die Ferne Geliebte" (to the distant beloved), opus. 98 (pp.344-46)and in his discussion of Beethoven's songs. (pp 274-279).
The compositions of Beethoven's third maturity receive the most individualized and detailed attention in this book. Lookwood considers at some length the Hammerklavier piano sonata and the opus 101 piano sonata (somewhat less attention is given to the final three sonatas), the Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, and to each of the five final string quartets and to the great fugue. Lockwood clearly loves this difficult music and impresses its character well upon the reader. But he gives his fullest discussion to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Lookwood gives a detailed musical discussion of each of the four movements of this work, not merely its choral finale which sets Schiller's "Ode to Joy"; and he places the work well in its historical situation. He admirably rejects the attempts in some modern writers to policticize or deconstruct this great symphony.
In the Ninth, Lockwood shows, Beethoven combined two tendencies which tend to separate in some of his works: his tendency to write works to appeal to a large public on the one hand, and his tendency to write artistically elevated and striving works on the other hand. Lockwood's treatment of the Ninth is one of the highlights of his book.
Lockwood has written a basic book, but probably the best overall book that will increase the reader's understanding of Beethoven and his music. May this book lead its readers to explore and to deepen their appreciation of Beethoven's great music
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This is a curious book. First, it leaves most of the biographical details (and psychoanalysis) to others, notably Maynard Solomon. This disappointed me, since I think some of Solomon's occasionally reductionist interpretations of Beethoven's behaviour, motivation, etc. could and should be challenged. Given that the composer had such a difficult life, fraught with political, financial and family instability as well as illness and disability, it is very important to understand more about this man of such intense and resolute character in order to more fully appreciate his music.
Second, while Lockwood's concentration on the music is interesting and sometimes insightful, it is at times difficult to understand for those without more than a passing knowledge of music theory. Furthermore, Lockwood's analysis is uneven. Some compositions such as the Missa Solemnis, Ninth Symphony and late quartets get substantial coverage, much of it remarkably good at dismissing historical criticism that has mistakenly assigned various political, sexual and other interpretations while more or less ignoring the music itself. Unfortunately, Lockwood does not give the same attention to other major compositions--the five piano concertos and the Violin Concerto among them. This also disappointed me. Given Lockwood's thought-provoking and balanced approach to the later works, it was too bad that he gave other major works more superficial or cursory treatment.
Nonetheless, this book is worth reading. Having read numerous books about Beethoven, I have come to the conclusion that no single book could possibly do justice to this complex and fascinating man and the incredible music he produced.
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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.
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As a college undergrad I took a music course taught by Lockwood many years ago. He was good as a teacher, and I knew he was a LvB scholar, so I always hoped to see a book about LvB's music. After I left college he published not one but at least two such books.
This one was written for the general audience, someone who wants to learn about LvB's life as well as his music. Unfortunately, the interweaving leaves the book in the awkward position of fulfilling neither purpose. As a biography it's too brief, and if you were looking for in-depth analysis of LvB's great music you'd be disappointed like myself. I guess one purpose it can serve is as a casual introduction to the background of LvB as a person and as a musician, against the cultural-political backdrop of his times. However, I myself find the coverage too shallow, way too shallow.
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Two other readers have reviewed this, the first complains that biographical details are subordinated to discussion of the music and also that not all the music is discussed in depth (this would take a multivolume set). The second says that musicians will find nothing new here, but if you are not a professional musician but a layman deeply interested in music, you'll treasure the musical analysis and suggestions for illuminating comparisons between works. The biographical details have been covered amply many times over, not just in Solomon, and they are treated adequately and sensibly here, I think.