Suffering is not external ... it is an essential part of the human experience
Jan 9, 2010
Informative, educational, entertaining, breathtaking, moving and (fill in your favourite superlative here!) What an absolutely brilliant use of the audio book medium to combine a book and music into a single format.
We have a wonderfully narrated (and extremely well acted) story of Beethoven as a man - the ruthless, indeed, brutal exploitation of the young genius by his father, Johann, who was determined to profit from his son's abilities in the same fashion as Leopold Mozart squeezed his brilliant child prodigy, Wolfgang Amadeus; Beethoven's heartbreaking (and perennially unsuccessful) obsession with obtaining a wife and female companionship; the devastating universal rejection of his overtures of love (never mind that the objects of his affection were invariably unavailable either by class, by age or by virtue of being already married); the young Beethoven's arrogant self-confidence that not only expressed nary a scintilla of doubt in his own abilities but even loudly professed that he learned absolutely nothing from his aging colleagues, Mozart and Haydn; the virtual abduction of his deceased brother's son, Karl, and his almost lifelong battle against Karl's mother, Johanna; and, of course, the tragedy of his progressive deafness and chronic abdominal pain.
Then there was his prolific, almost miraculous output of some of the finest music that the world has ever been granted the opportunity to hear - symphonies, etudes, quartets, quintets, sonatas, choral works, chamber music, concerti, masses. Cutting edge music such as his 32nd and final piano sonata defied current convention and re-wrote the musical rule books as to what was acceptable and beautiful. Although this sonata, for example, was fundamentally what we would historically label as classical in nature, it was also avant-garde, entirely original and bore no resemblance to the baroque music that immediately preceded it. Certain rhythms, enormous variations in both tempi and volume, and striking dissonant harmonies would even lead many of today's listeners (unfamiliar with Beethoven) to feel they were listening to the beginnings of modern jazz piano. The breathtaking and entirely unprecedented final movement of his ninth symphony, with orchestra, full mixed chorus and four soloists, was so far ahead of its time as to lay the groundwork for Mahler's enormous choral masterworks that weren't to appear until over 70 years later.
Despite being a curious concatenation of ostentatious self-pity (one could admit that this was, to a certain extent, warranted given his physical ailments), ugly eccentricities, beastly manners and sometimes less than faithful personal hygiene habits, Ludwig van Beethoven was liked by his friends. He styled himself a Bacchus whose mission in life was the dissemination of joy to the world through his music. And now ... this brilliant audio work has made me painfully aware that I have only begun to scratch the surface of that enormous repertoire of joy. How ironic is it that one of Beethoven's final works, written at a time when he was most ill and most profoundly deaf was a setting of a poem entitled "Ode to Joy"! I've got an enjoyable bit of work in front of me to delve deeper into Beethoven's music!
I must say I'm looking forward to more CDs in this series! Goodness knows there are lots to choose from - Haydn, Chopin, Bach, Liszt, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Schubert and more! I'm thrilled to have discovered such a gem.
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About the reviewer
Paul Weiss (cpw1952)
A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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