A Guide to Beethoven's Life and Music
Barry Cooper, General Editor.
Borders Press, Paperback, 1991.
4to. 351 pp.
First published in 1991?
CALENDAR OF BEETHOVEN'S LIFE, WORKS AND RELATED EVENTS
BEETHOVEN'S FAMILY TREE (Barry Cooper)
WHO'S WHO OF WAGNER'S CONTEMPORARIES (Barry Cooper)
Politics (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Intellectual currents: philosophy and aesthetics (Nicholas Marston)
Patronage and the place of the artist in society Nicholas Marston)
Economics (Barry Cooper)
Evolution of the Classical style, 1750-1800 (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Influences on Beethoven's style (Barry Cooper)
Beethoven's musical environment (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Music copying and publishing (Barry Cooper)
Beethoven's patrons and commissions (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
BEETHOVEN AS INDIVIDUAL
Appearance and manner
Character and behaviour
THE PORTRAITS (plates 1-21)
Residence and travel
Daily routine and composing habits
Beethoven as pianist, conductor and teacher
Illnesses, deafness and death
BEETHOVEN'S BELIEFS AND OPINIONS
Philosophical ideas: ethics and art
His own music
BIOGRAPHICAL AND MUSICAL SOURCE MATERIAL
Letters (Nicholas Marston)
Conversation books (Nicholas Marston)
Diaries and other documents (Barry Cooper)
The Heiligenstadt Testament (Barry Cooper)
Sketches (Nicholas Marston)
BEETHOVEN'S HAND (plates 22-36)
Corrected copies and copyists
First editions and publishers
Manuscript paper and handwriting
A CONSPECTUS OF BEETHOVEN'S MUSIC
The stylistic periods
Traditional elements of Beethoven's style
Harmony and tonality
Musical form: innovations
Numerical lists of works (Barry Cooper)
Symphonies (Nicholas Marston)
Concertos and other orchestral music (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Dance music and marches (Barry Cooper)
Chamber music with wind (Nicholas Marston)
Chamber music for piano and strings (Nicholas Marston)
Chamber music for strings alone (Nicholas Marston)
Piano music (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Stage music (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Choral music, vocal music with orchestra, canons (Barry Cooper)
Songs (Barry Cooper)
Folksong arrangements (Barry Cooper)
Arrangements of his own music; miscellaneous works (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Unfinished and projected works (Barry Cooper)
PERFORMANCE PRACTICE IN BEETHOVEN'S DAY
Contemporary assessments (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Posthumous assessments: the 'Romantic Hero' (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Performance styles since Beethoven's day (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Monuments and memorials (Anne-Louise Coldicott)
Beethoven's place in music history (Barry Cooper)
Biography and biographers (William Drabkin)
Editions of the music (Nicholas Marston)
Analytical studies (Nicholas Marston)
Sketch studies (Nicholas Marston)
Bibliographies, catalogues and indexes (Nicholas Marston)
List of illustrations
I do believe a table of contents is the best review one can give to such a book. So few personal and irrelevant observations follow.
I really like this series of compendiums: they are the perfect starting point. It is a pity that very few volumes have been published (Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, anybody else?) and they have not been reprinted and updated for some twenty years or so. Considering the possibility that some of the information may be slightly dated, the volumes are still very valuable for their scrupulous scholarship and meticulous research. The Beethoven Companion has been my second encounter with the series - after the one about Wagner - and it has on the whole been a slightly more satisfying one. Whether this is due to the fact that Beethoven was less controversial a personality than Wagner, or that his companion was written by a smaller group of scholars (only four altogether) who happened to be better writers as well, I do not know.
Despite the relative lack of controversies around his name, Beethoven must be a daunting subject to write about. After all, this was the man who all but single-handedly made the transition between Classicism and Romanticism, in terms of music at all events. Not only did Beethoven compose an enormous amount of music - most of which is still very much in the standard repertoire 200 years later - but his oeuvre represents one of the most spectacular musical revolutions ever witnessed: just compare his first symphony with his last, or his early piano sonatas with the late ones, and tell me you believe they were created by the same man. I still find it hard to believe that. Most importantly, though, Beethoven's works have long since been recognised as one of the pinnacles of the Western civilisation. Few geniuses, I think, have been so universally and unanimously accepted. To most people not seriously interested in this matter, the name of Beethoven is probably the first association with classical music; together with the first part of the Fifth and the final chorus of the Night symphony, or the first part of the ''Moonlight'' sonata and Für Elise, probably the most popular pieces for piano. Many classical music aficionados think of Beethoven as by far the greatest composer who ever lived, and with good reason. Last but certainly not least, it was Beethoven, too, who made patrons, aristocrats and other monstrously wealthy and largely philistine folk realise the true value of the artist and his unique position in human society (that many have subsequently misused this principle to an appalling degree is quite another story and has nothing to do with its general validity). Beethoven in one of those rare phenomenons that are simply and absolutely unique. Few human beings deserve more the rather elusive, and much to loosely used nowadays, description ''genius'' than Beethoven does.
Broadly following the same plan as the The Wagner Compendium, its Beethoven colleague discusses everything, and considering the limited space, in great detail: Beethoven's personality, behaviour and outlook; his personal, intellectual, social and political environment, background and relationships; his reception and the literature about him; and of course, above all, his music. Granted, the text often has a good deal of academic dryness, but that's surely to be expected - and it is indeed admitted by Barry Cooper in his short Reader's Guide. But the pieces are well-written, their informative value is extremely high and their scholarship uniformly impeccable. What I - as a non-musician - find most appealing is that very seldom excessive technical detail mars the pages; for example, even the discussions of the different groups of works in Section 10 - where technical terms are by definition inevitable - are by no means unreadable: the accent is firmly on the broad historical development and the main tendencies, not on minor details legible only for the specialists. I am not going to claim that I have read every single piece in the book, but I have certainly sampled heavily all of its writers. There is hardly any stylistic differences between the four contributors to the volume, so no jarring transitions occur, and, in general, the writing is surprisingly lucid, succinct, subtle and even perceptive. There is a lot to learn here but even more to think about.
The Calendar in Section 1 is excellent, encompassing the time from c. 1740, when Ludwig's father was born, until 1827, the year of Beethoven's death. Almost every single year of his life is given here a detailed summary: events, compositions, publications, etc. The Numerical lists of works is also superbly done. It lists no fewer than 138 opus numbers and 205 WoO (Werke ohne Opuszahl, works without opus numbers), even many a number from the obscure and rarely used Hess catalogue, which lists only little known miscellaneous works anyway; each of these is supplied with a page number where more information about the work in question is given: date of composition and publication, tonality, parts, instrumentation, dedication. It goes without saying that the bibliography in the end of the book, together with William Drabkin's summary, is a fine place to start a much deeper investigation of the man who is universally acknowledged to have been among the greatest geniuses since mankind exists. Of course it's a bit dated, but it makes clear that Maynard Solomon's books are most probably the best place to start. Besides, from the numerous entries in the book by Barry Cooper, it is obvious that anything in book form by the general editor of The Beethoven Compendium must be worth reading as well.
To be sampled next, heavily of course: The Mozart Compendium, edited by H.C. Robbins Landon.
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