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Beethoven. The Man Revealed.
Elliott and Thompson
University of California Press
Everything in this fascinating book has been published previously, though in some cases as long as a century ago. Indeed, Suchet, whom you are likely to have heard as a presenter on Classic FM, believes that much of the information here has not been re-published for many decades, and never in English. Suchet describes himself as an enthusiast and lover of Beethoven’s music, rather than a musicologist. Therefore, the book is aimed at the like-minded reader, though photo-reproductions of Beethoven's music manuscript are included. The book’s full-colour illustrations are attractive.
The chronology of Beethoven’s early years is uncertain. Nevertheless, Suchet weaves a charming tale of the young composer, an account which contains a considerable amount of speculation (probably largely fiction, who knows?), with many gentle cautions, qualifications and disclaimers. We do know that Beethoven began music lessons a year before he left school. He could play all of Bach’s 48 by the age of 12. The boy’s home life in Bonn was marred by his father’s excessive drinking; on one occasion the father became so drunk in public that he was arrested. We learn that Beethoven arrived in Vienna in 1792, one month before his twenty-second birthday. At that time he had never before worn a wig, let alone a powdered one. By 1794, when he had been in Vienna for less than two years, Beethoven was described as far and away the city’s most accomplished all-round musician. Suchet gives us much interesting background, including household accounts, failed love affairs, the domestic chaos in which Beethoven lived, the matter of coping with deafness, the composer’s friendship with Goethe, and the details surrounding the composition of the Ninth Symphony.
One niggle concerns Suchet’s repetitive employment of ‘certain’. He writes of ‘a certain Richard Wagner’ (p.47), ‘a certain Joseph Haydn (p.48), ‘a certain Jeanette d’Honrath (p.62), ‘a certain Frau Koch’ (p.62), ‘a certain member of the Habsburg royal family’ (p.143), ‘a certain Alois Weissenbach’ (p.174), ‘a certain Thomas Broadwood’ (p.191), ‘a certain Dr Andreas Wawruch‘ (p. 246) - you get the idea. The tic is surprising given Suchet’s otherwise excellent authorship, and should have been removed during editing. One begins to look out for it. The pace of the writing, otherwise excellent, is slowed.
Recently, one commentator was moved to describe Suchet as: “Someone who may conceivably know more about Beethoven than the composer himself.” This being the author’s sixth book about the master, such a description could well be true.
John Robert Brown