An Inspired Beethoven Biography

I'm about halfway through the Dutch conductor and musicologist Jan Caeyers' new Beethoven biography (g) (reviewed positively by the FAZ here (g)) and am enthralled. Even though this is a German translation from the Dutch, Caeyers' elegant prose still makes this the most readable of Beethoven biographies. Plus, Caeyers avoids all hagiographical and most sensationalistic impulses, carefully weighing the evidence for who the 'immortal beloved' might have been and sifting through the vagaries of the Eroica dedication with calm, judicious mastery. Caeyers does a wonderful job of illuminating the bizarre and fascinating characters who accompanied Beethoven's rise, including the hedonistic Prince Lobkowitz and the polymath entertainer Schikaneder. Although there are some musical excerpts, you don't need to be able to read music to enjoy the text: Caeyers eloquently and incisively explains Beethoven's technique and innovations with a minimum of complex musical jargon.

It's pretty massive (832 pages), but the print is large and there are many illustrations. Plus, because it's so lively and well-written, you don't want it to end. I'll have more to say when I finish the book, but what I've seen so far earns a strong recommendation for anyone in the market for a great biography of Ludwig van. To the publisher I say: This book urgently deserves an English translation, and my rates are reasonable…

One thought on “An Inspired Beethoven Biography

  1. Thanks for the review! It sounds interesting and worthwhile. I hade been turned off slightly by some older amazon reviews that pointed out what I took to be some anachronistic concepts for the analysis of Beethoven’s situation and also some gossipy bits. But if, as you now say, the immortal beloved stuff is handled well, this was probably a wrong impression or skewed review.

    A very good recent book (somewhat shorter) with more focus on the music and musical development is Lockwood’s “Beethoven – The Music and the Life” from 2003.


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