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Beethoven: His Spiritual Development Mass Market Paperback – February 12, 1960

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Great men, especially creative artists whose work lives after them, engage people's imagination for centuries. Beethoven, as man and composer, has inspired innumerable books both by his contemporaries and later writers, and it is proof of his endlessly fascinating, controversial nature that they all throw a different light on some aspect of his life and work. Since J.W.N. Sullivan wrote his book in 1927, much new information about Beethoven, his character, his illnesses, and his relationships has come to light, but it is still a valid contribution to the literature on the composer. Sullivan's basic theory is that Beethoven's greatness lies in his extraordinary perceptions, his heightened experiences and "states of consciousness," and his ability to organize and synthesize these into a musical expression of a "view of life." He asserts that Beethoven's initial despairing, then defiant struggle against his suffering--especially his deafness and resulting isolation--gives his middle-period works their heroism, and that his ultimate acceptance of it as necessary to his creativity marks the peak of his "spirituality" and gives his latest works their unparalleled sublimity.

Like many biographies, the book reveals more about the author than the subject. Sullivan, who is not a musician, offers some interesting, if sometimes extravagantly extramusical, analyses of Beethoven's works (though elsewhere he decries injecting "meaning" into music). He sees Beethoven's late fugues as outbursts of "blind and desperate energy," another battle with hostile fate; many musicians see them as another battle with counterpoint. He also makes subjective, high-handed value judgments: he detests Wagner and dismisses Bach as too religious, while Haydn and Mozart are too shallow to equal Beethoven's struggle-generated "spirituality." The book also brings up questions about beauty and greatness in art, the relationship between moral character and genius, and the impact of a man's personal experiences upon his creativity--all age-old but forever timely. --Edith Eisler

Review

From the Author's Preface:

"I believe that in his greatest music Beethoven was primarily concerned to express his personal vision of life. This vision was, of course, the product of his character and his experience. Beethoven the man and Beethoven the composer are not two unconnected entities, and the known history of the man may be used to throw light upon the character of his music."

Clifton Fadiman has said of this classic study:

"It is the most interesting book on music that I have ever read and it is not written for musical experts; rather for people like myself who like to listen to music but can boast no special knowledge of it. It deals not only with music, on which I do not speak with authority, but with human life in general, about which you and I speak with authority every day of our lives."
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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 173 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 12, 1960)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394701003
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394701004
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 0.4 x 7.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Prof Harvey Crichton on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is not going to get many postive feedbacks.. HOWEVER.. this is just a note to say THIS REALLY and truly is a BRILLIANT BOOK.... and for anyone wanting to dive straight into the deep end as to what Beethoven and ART and Classical Music par se is and the mind of a composer and the struggle of a life between Art, creativity, God and love and genius is all about this is the one book to get. Yet, surprisingly not only all made very understandable but then clarity and inspiration and feel good factor was never made so good in a book on a composer, also made so enjoyable. A true and real learning journey in this book.Priceless. I felt myself on tour with the writer and the works and mind of life of Beethoven as though the man was his art and his work. Out of MUCH self taught reading on classical music. This book truly remains my ALL TIME FAVOURITE book about any single composer. Supremely well written and written with clarity and passages I underlined endlessly. It is one of those books. Just well researched, well written and written about from angles and insights that you really DID want to know and not written anywhere else and never realised you did want to know and it is a real journey. If you feel a journey with Beethoven`s music this is the best book ever written to get into his mind , and his art and the music and his life as one.... A real cherished classic. I hate the phrase. This book is one of 20-30 that I look back really does come under the heading "life changer" and can give a truer real insight into the mind of genius and ART in capital letters and an artist`s intention and the working of a mind and spirit..and it explains the music so well in relation to his life and genius. A seriously great gem , where every page is a page turning inspiration and delight.Read more ›
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After over 30 years since my first reading of this book, it remains one of the most important in my life. Sullivan was a science writer, not a musicologist and this is no academic treatise. After 3 chapters examining the various meanings and definitions of music and making a case for music as communication of non verbal reality, Sullivan looks at Beethoven's life as it developed and how it developed from the young power playing virtuoso to an artist who has probably gone farther in spiritual development than any other. Keys include the fact that his music got better and better as he aged, as his life developed as an organic whole, being absolutely true to his own experience.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Schopenhauer on March 19, 2005
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Sullivan's book has remained in print for over 70 years, despite not being a definitive source book for facts about Beethoven's life and work. Sullivan's achievement is different. Sullivan wrote one of the very few biographies, about Beethoven or anybody else, that captures and understands the level of "depth of life" that results from identifying one's life with the search for the meaning of life and of the universe, if there is any such meaning. Beethoven lived on this level and the particular path Beethoveen pursued and expressed in his music is uniquely understood by Sullivan. This biography is a masterpiece in its own right.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 25, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Sullivan was a mathematician, scientist and philosopher, but music had a high priority in his life. And Beethoven was at the top of his list of greats. He says: "Perhaps even Shakespeare never reached that final stage of illumination that is expressed in some of Beethoven's late music."
As the title says, this is not a biography so much as a description of Beethoven's "spiritual development. If you love Beethoven. You must read this book.
And you might ask yourself the question: Why has this book remained in print for 73 years?
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By The Man in the Hathaway Shirt on July 26, 2010
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This compact masterpiece was written in 1927, probably to mark the centennial of Beethoven's death. Compact, but *dense!* It's an extraordinary book that gets inside the mind of Beethoven and requires no technical knowledge of music or anything else for one to profit from its considerable insights. In fact it was the first book I ever read on the composer, back when I was a classical music neophyte, and it really helped me appreciate the music I subsequently heard. Saying you're dealing with a book that "gets into the mind" of the subject is hardly unusual...after all, Maynard Solomon is always professing to do this. But this book *does.* The author says nothing radical about the personality of his subject, but he does a thorough job of exploring Beethoven's mind and explaining why his greatest masterpieces are just that. Written at a time when Beethoven was widely considered THE greatest composer (a view I hold as well), the book has no problems with absolute statements about the relative values of different elements and aspects of music, and what Sullivan (and many others of the time) valued about Beethoven was his constant growth, growth to higher and more refined realms of consciousness. We are not so comfortable with pronouncements like this today in this more relativistic age. And Mozart is today considered at least Beethoven's equal and more often his superior, often by people unfamiliar with both composers beyond a superficial take or else publishers/performers all to eager to jump on the public's "Moe-zart is divine" bandwagon for reasons having more to do with box office than any true conviction.Read more ›
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