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Beethoven: The Man Revealed

Beethoven: The Man Revealed

by John Suchet

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Ludwig van Beethoven remains one of the world’s best loved and most influential composers, the creator of such magisterial works as the 'Eroica,' the famous Fifth Symphony, and the 'Emperor' Piano Concerto, yet also smaller, more intimate pieces like the 'Moonlight' Sonata, and 'Für Elise.' But few know much of Beethoven’s tumultuous personal life


Ludwig van Beethoven remains one of the world’s best loved and most influential composers, the creator of such magisterial works as the 'Eroica,' the famous Fifth Symphony, and the 'Emperor' Piano Concerto, yet also smaller, more intimate pieces like the 'Moonlight' Sonata, and 'Für Elise.' But few know much of Beethoven’s tumultuous personal life, beyond the fact that he is the composer who became deaf.

Beethoven scholar John Suchet has had a lifelong passion for the man and his music. In this book, he illuminates Beethoven’s difficult childhood, his struggle to find a wife, his ungovernable temper, his emotional volatility, his tendency to push away those trying to help him, and in middle age his obsessive compulsion to control his nephew’s life. In this detailed and absorbing biography, Suchet argues that it is perhaps more true of Beethoven than of any other composer, that if you know what was going on in his life, you listen to his music through different ears.

Beethoven is a full and comprehensive account of a momentous life that takes the reader on an extraordinary journey, from the composer’s birth in Bonn to his death in Vienna. Beethoven scholarship is constantly evolving, and Suchet draws on the latest research, as well as using source material (some of which has never before been published in English), to paint the fullest picture yet created of the greatest composer who ever lived.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Suchet, a musical scholar and British classical radio host, guides us along a detailed tour of Beethoven’s life, exploring not so much the music he created as his life—nearly 60 years of drama, love, and loss. From the imposing composer’s difficult early life in Bonn to his later fame (and occasional infamy) living in Vienna, Suchet offers a definitive, close look at the composer. Even those with cursory musical knowledge will appreciate the engaging narrative, beginning with Beethoven’s unknown birthday and ending with his slow death. Along the way, one can easily find oneself identifying with Beethoven, chuckling when he uses his virtuosic piano skills to dismantle rivals, cheering when his utter genius is wholly recognized, and weeping with him when he is heartbroken and suicidal. Suchet displays great skill as a storyteller-historian, crafting an engrossing biography that explores every part of Beethoven’s personal life—a story that includes a love affair as passionate as it is mysterious and a bitter custody battle with his sister-in-law that unveils Beethoven at his most despicable. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), perhaps the most iconic of all Western classical composers, has featured in countless books and articles. Suchet (host, Britain's Classic FM) has written another entry in a crowded field. The book is not a scholarly work (perhaps the best-known recent scholarly treatments are by Maynard Solomon, Lewis Lockwood, and Barry Cooper), nor is it a niche interpretation, such as J.W.N. Sullivan's marvelous Beethoven: His Spiritual Development; rather, this book is a popular yet serious biography. Suchet does not reduce Beethoven's difficult life to Freudian speculation, as does Solomon, nor does he focus primarily on the music, as does Lockwood; instead, he has penned a readable and sensible history of the man. On certain points, such as Beethoven's lone meeting with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Suchet indulges in reasonable supposition, and on other points, such as the identity of the "immortal beloved," a reasonable agnosticism. VERDICT A fine popular treatment of the great composer, this book will be welcomed by classical music fans and/or those who enjoy reading biographies of great men and women.—Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-10-20
A comprehensive, moving biography of arguably the world's greatest and most well-known composer, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). For the many readers lacking the proper background in musical theory, British broadcaster and Beethoven authority Suchet's explanations of Beethoven's music sing to us almost as if we could hear it. Knowing of Beethoven's deafness--his hearing began to deteriorate in his mid-20s--teaches us that the truly great can hear music in their brains. For the rest of us, we rely on exposure to the joy of hearing the music and the kindness of those who will explain it to us without impugning or offending our intelligence. To suggest that Beethoven was eccentric is being kind. He was unkempt to the point of slovenliness, and his unpredictable temperament and manic gestures and yelling during his walks were only accepted because of his well-known brilliance. At the same time, nothing impeded his creativity, as he produced some of his best work in times of war, ill health and extreme poverty. Only the years of legal battles over the guardianship of his nephew taxed his powers, a situation that was never really resolved, only postponed. Suchet examines Beethoven's creative process over the years, especially in regard to the writing of his only opera, Fidelio, which premiered in 1805. The author's moving description of the heart-rending melody in one of the legendary composer's works brings us to a greater appreciation of the man: "It is a lift, marked sotto voce, which seems to take the soul with it. After a development, the first violin then falls a sixth. It is heartrending. When you believe Beethoven cannot increase the intensity any more, he writes pianissimo quavers for three strings, and then the first violin…weeps." In the postscript, Suchet writes that "musicologists know where the source material is," but he provides a brief list of recordings for curious lay readers. Kudos to the author for this deeply moving, outstanding biography.
From the Publisher
One of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Music Books of the Year

"Suchet’s explanations of Beethoven’s music sing to us almost as if we could hear it. . . . Kudos to the author for this deeply moving, outstanding biography." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"A big, bold biography." —Library Journal

"Suchet's conversational approach allows him to present the known details of Beethoven's life while speculating effectively on the unknown. . . . A colloquial, picaresque biography." —Shelf Awareness

"Breathtaking . . . Suchet has turned his vast knowledge, imagination and passion [into] . . . a memorable life that abounds with the kind of details often overlooked by researchers focused only on verifiable facts. . . . [His] intuitive understanding of human nature, social history and psychological insight . . . unwraps Beethoven’s life as a lively connected narrative, energized on every page . . . What is refreshing and novel here is the imaginative and engaging way in which a formidably tangled skein of pre-existing strands has been deftly unraveled and re-woven into a deeply moving portrait." —Bookreporter

"I have loved and performed Beethoven since I was very young and have read a good deal about the life and times of this giant among composers, but John Suchet’s infectious enthusiasm and fascination, probing the details behind every step of his life, and turning sensitive sleuth when the facts are less clear, opens new vistas and makes for a gripping and thought-provoking read. —Howard Shelley, Pianist and Conductor

"John Suchet offers us a fascinating and touchingly human insight into a great figure who has consumed him for decades. By exercising a genuine authority in identifying how Beethoven, the man, manifests himself in our appreciation of the music, Suchet brings an incisive freshness to an extraordinary life. The results in his 'Beethovenia' are always rigorously researched and accompanied by a child-like passion to communicate the composer's true essence." —Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music

"Beethoven's music continues to form one of the cornerstones of the concert repertoire some 200 years after it was written, and its sheer ingenuity and inventiveness never cease to amaze the perceptive listener. Knowing the context in which it was written can aid our understanding of the music, and every biography of Beethoven's unusual life has something new to say. Although some aspects of his life, such as his deafness, and his great love for his only nephew, are well known, this book also includes many details that are less familiar. John Suchet writes with infectious enthusiasm, and his avoidance of technical detail makes this a biography that can be read and understood by anyone interested in the composer." —Professor Barry Cooper, University of Manchester

Product Details

Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Ludwig did more than teach piano to the Breuning children. He in effect grew up as part of the Breuning household, becoming almost a surrogate member of the family. [. . .] It was there, also, that he first became acquainted with German literature, especially poetry. It is beyond doubt that he will have been introduced to the works of the two emerging giants of German literature, Goethe and Schille. He read Homer and Plutarch. He was trained too in social etiquette. He even went away on holiday with the family. Helene von Breuning clearly took him under her wing and made it her duty to fill in the gaps—academic and social—that early exit from school and singular devotion to music had caused.

His father Johann remained of low standing, and was little more than a figure of ridicule. [. . .] Ludwig was in effect the family breadwinner. Given his father’s alcoholism, he was also de facto head of the household. This was before he was midway through his teens. The pressure he was under must have been enormous. He held a salaried position at court, which demanded serious work. He was continuing instruction with Neefe. At home he was witnessing his father’s increasing alcoholism and his mother’s distress. This was made immeasurably worse by his mother’s obviously declining health. She was showing all the signs of having contracted the deadly disease of consumption (tuberculosis).

And yet he found time to compose.

Meet the Author

John Suchet is recognized as a leading authority on the life and works of Ludwig van Beethoven. This is his first full-length biography of the composer. He presents the morning program on Britain’s Classic FM, and lives in London.

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