Beethoven scholar and classical radio host John Suchet has had a lifelong, ardent interest in the man and his music. Here, in his first full-length biography, Suchet illuminates the composer’s difficult childhood, his struggle to maintain friendships and romances, his ungovernable temper, his obsessive efforts to control his nephew’s life, and the excruciating decline of his hearing. This absorbing narrative provides a comprehensive account of a momentous life, as it takes the reader on a journey from the composer’s birth in Bonn to his death in Vienna.
Chronicling the landmark events in Beethoven's careerfrom his competitive encounters with Mozart to the circumstances surrounding the creation of the well-known Für Elise and Moonlight Sonatathis book enhances understanding of the composer's character, inspiring a deeper appreciation for his work. Beethoven scholarship is constantly evolving, and Suchet draws on the latest research, using rare source material (some of which has never before been published in English) to paint a complete and vivid portrait of the legendary prodigy.
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About the Author
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 gapsacademic and socialthat 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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Spaniard: In which a momentous life begins 1
Chapter 2 The Right Teacher: This boy could become 'a second Mozart' 23
Chapter 3 Meeting Mozart: Watch out for that boy 43
Chapter 4 Word Spreads: Young Beethoven as kitchen scullion 63
Chapter 5 Impressing the Viennese: But Haydn feels the wrath of an angry young man 89
Chapter 6 My Poor Hearing Haunts: ME But there is 'a dear charming girl who loves me' 107
Chapter 7 Only My Art Held Me Back: In which Beethoven considers suicide 123
Chapter 8 Egyptian Hieroglyphics: Napoleon is no more than 'a common tyrant' 137
Chapter 9 O, Beloved J!: Musical failure, but will Beethoven succeed in love? 155
Chapter 10 A Deeply Immoral Woman: Beethoven holds the most important concert of his life, and is offered a job 173
Chapter 11 Under Cannon Fire: In which Beethoven once again tries his luck at love 193
Chapter 12 Immortal Beloved: 'My angel, my all, my very self 207
Chapter 13 An Utterly Untamed Personality: Beethoven turns again to his 'poor shipwrecked opera' 223
Chapter 14 Into the Witness Box: How the single letter 'o' ruined Beethoven's life 243
Chapter 15 A Musical Gift from London: How Rossini found Beethoven 'disorderly and dirty' 261
Chapter 16 'I Want to be a Soldier': In which Beethoven gets drunk with friends 283
Chapter 17 Two Pistols and Gunpowder: An invitation to get away from it all 303
Chapter 18 Frightening the Oxen: 'The greatest composer of the century, and you treated him like a servant!' 321
Chapter 19 Terminally Ill: 'His face was damp, he spat blood' 337
Chapter 20 The Last Master: 'He was an artist, but a man as well' 353