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Beethoven: The Universal Composer (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – October 4, 2005


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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 243 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Collins; 1st edition (October 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060759747
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060759742
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #913,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This addition to the Eminent Lives Series by Pulitzer-winning biographer Morris (Theodore Rex; Dutch) does not disappoint. The author provides a close analysis of only one cantata, the early (written at 19) and relatively obscure Joseph II, but leaves no doubt he could easily do the same for the more radical and magisterial works, which are "bothersome to orthodox opinion" about Beethoven's time, were the ground not so well trodden. Outsize in talent, Beethoven was a difficult, ugly little man, uncomfortable with women (Immortal Beloved and a certain amount of "groupie" attention notwithstanding, he seems never to have had a successful romantic relationship), snobbish and a raving egotist. His seven-year legal battle with his sister-in-law over custody of her son assumed "manic proportions" and set him "drifting toward paranoia." Yet not only did his prodigious productivity never falter, his psychosis, alcoholism, chronic rages, famous deafness and increasing illness ("dropsy";edema;cirrhosis and possibly lupus killed him at 56) actually seemed to spur his genius: the greatest works are the later ones. Morris clearly admires his subject not only for the work but also for his constant fight against the odds, and he has written an ideal biography for the general reader. (Oct. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–This concise, well-organized biography by an eminent music scholar is just the right length and depth for teen readers. Most readers already know that Beethoven was deaf by the time his famous Ninth Symphony was performed, but Morris fills in the fascinating details of how the composer, who began to lose his hearing in his late 20s, developed strategies to continue writing music and to keep his ever-increasing audience from learning his secret. Students who are compelled to practice their music lessons will sympathize with Beethovens unhappy life as a child prodigy, when he was allowed to raise his exhausted fingers from the clavier keyboard only when it was time for him to take up the violin. Having lived a childhood of straitened circumstances, he became extravagant and frequently fell into debt as an adult. To keep a supply of ready money, he frequently sold almost completed pieces that he had not even started to multiple wealthy patrons. He attracted eager young ladies, but his shyness prevented him from forming any attachments except for emotional bonds with married women. Morris has interwoven Beethovens life story with lyrical passages about the sounds and structures of his major works. These descriptions help show how he used the techniques developed by past masters, while introducing the innovations that would be further developed by composers over the next hundred years.–Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Edmund Morris is one of America's best political biographers and journalists. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. He lives in New York and Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful to the non-musician, the book contains a glossary of Musical Terms.
E. E Pofahl
Unlike other books by Mr. Morris, this accurate biography of Beethoven's life is based on fact instead of vivid recreation of fiction.
Jonathan Giraldo
I highly recommend this book to those who love Beethoven's music and to those who, perhaps would like to become afficionados.
David E. Levine

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 101 people found the following review helpful By David E. Levine on November 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
There are a number of different series of short biographies that are curretly being published. For example, there is a series of short presidential biographies published by Times Books. Penguin has issued a number of short biographies and now, Harper Collins has joined in with the Eminent Lives series. Edmund Morris's contribution, "Beethoven: The Universal Composer" is one of the best of the many short biographies I have ever read. The author, famous for longer biographies of both Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan (the Reagan biography "Dutch" was very controversial) has shown that he is an expert in music and is extraordinarily knowledgable about his subject.

I bought this book at an author's signing at a bookstore. Mr. Morris stated that he was approached by the editors of this series to write a biography of a subject of his choosing. Morris proposed Beethoven. The editors were skeptical, thinking there might not be a wide audience for that subject. Mr. Morris, howver, prevailed and I'm glad he did as this is superb contribution to the series. At the booksigning, Mr. Morris spoke and he provided extraordinary insights. It is well known that Beethoven became hard of hearing and, ultimately, stone deaf. Although it is not stated in the book, in speaking, Mr. Morris demonstrated that there are certain instances in Beethoven's music in which he is reproducing the odd sounds he was hearing in his head due to his deafness. For example, the opening strains of the 9th Symphony, according to an expert Morris spoke to, sounds like the "sounds" caused by a certain type of deafness.

Beethoven was raised by a father who was somewhat abusive. His father forced him to practice his music and physically chastised the young child when he did not perform properly.
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71 of 79 people found the following review helpful By David A. Wend on February 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I read Thayer's Life of Beethoven many years ago and I wanted to revisit the life of Beethoven. My interest was for something dealing closely with Beethoven's personality and this short book by Edmund Morris seemed ideal. There is a lot of information that makes this short study interesting but I ultimately did not find this book very satisfying. A danger in writing a biography is that the author can fall under the spell of his subject and cease to be objective. I found this to be the case with Mr. Morris especially in his first chapter where he addresses his subject as "Ludwig" and seems eager to explain his life rather than objectively relate events.

Mr. Morris' lack of objectivity was also made clear in the opening Prologue where he denigrates other composers; he points out that "Brahms has never gone down well in France" and that "Sibelius, who once seemed sure of a seat on Parnassus, has been replaced by the masturbatory Mahler." At one time, radio audiences in America voted Sibelius as the most popular composer, even over Beethoven, and it should also be noted that Beethoven's symphonies were not played in France until after his death where in some circles they, indeed, did not go down well either. And as for Mahler, I found such comments by Mr. Morris' to be extremely uncharitable and a turn off.

There were other comments that I found irksome and a few doubtful. An example: "It is hard to think of any contemporary classical-music radio station or website that does not attempt to beat to death, on a daily basis, the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the "Emperor" Concerto, the Coriolan and Leonore I Overtures and the Choral Fantasy - while fortunately neglecting such other masterpieces as the Cello Sonata, Op. 69, the "Ghost" and E-flat major Trios, Op.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Craig VINE VOICE on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Trimmming away all the conjecture and speculation that is found in too many biographies, Morris has written a wonderfully straightforward and lucid biography of one of music's most important figures.

Given the relatively short length for a biography (barely 250 pages), I was concerned that completeness might be lacking. However, Morris manages to cover all the major points - Beethoven's problems with alcohol, his deafness, the methods behind his genius, his problems with women - without giving the impression that he's rushing us through the book.

There are more comprehensive bios of Beethoven out there, but this is a great starting point, and a terrific addition to the study of an important figure.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By W. R. Shindle on January 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I was received this book as a present, shortly after reviewing the more objective biography of Beethoven by Barry Cooper, part of the Masters Musicians series publihed by Oxford University Press, a second time. It did not take me long before before I realized that Morris relied too much on the writings of the Sterbas, and accepted without questioning some of the more contraversial aspects in the writings of Maynard Solomon. Many of these aspects were adressed in the Barry Cooper's biography, in which he has investigated and put into proper perspective. I became more and irritated as I read through Morris's book. It is a shame that this book is written with the idea of for introducing Beethoven to the general public. For a more acurate biography of Beethoven incorporating his life and works, one without the other is meaningless, I would suggest the Biography by Barry Cooper.
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