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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shining Light on Beethoven
Biss's writing is brilliantly analytical and full of feeling - like his playing. This essay is many things: it is a meditation on performing, how technique and intellect and emotion combine in the constant striving for a "more perfect" realization of a piece of music; it is a discussion of the differences between playing for a recording and for a live audience, and it is...
Published on December 19, 2011 by D. Weisgall

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Initially interesting but tired of the hyperbole and over interpretation / analysis of musical experience.
Didn't read it all. A musician or music critic may enjoy it. The first pages describing personal experience of performance were interesting, but I tired of the over analysis of musical experience, and nonsense about pedigree.
Published 15 months ago by Peter


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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shining Light on Beethoven, December 19, 2011
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Biss's writing is brilliantly analytical and full of feeling - like his playing. This essay is many things: it is a meditation on performing, how technique and intellect and emotion combine in the constant striving for a "more perfect" realization of a piece of music; it is a discussion of the differences between playing for a recording and for a live audience, and it is an affectionate look at those pianists who have most influenced Biss' playing. At its heart, it is an eloquent, honest, and often funny account of Biss's own passionate relationship with music, and with Beethoven especially. He tells us, for instance, that he insisted on learning the Appassionata Sonata when he was thirteen and how it required all his strength to get through it, and then he takes us along through the changes in the way he thinks and feels about the piece each time he plays it. His descriptions of specific passages are revelations: how, in Opus 28, for example, Beethoven's "force of will" is "so strong that he only needs a simple harmony to erase the memory of all other music." Jonathan Biss wrote this essay as he embarked on a project to record all thirty-two sonatas. It would be wonderful for us if he were to write notes, personal and full of insight like this essay, to accompany each of those sonatas
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven...a brilliantly written account by Jonathon Biss, January 1, 2012
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
"Beethoven's Shadow" is a work of non-fiction by author and pianist Jonathan Biss. This is a Kindle e-book that is available from Amazon.com. It is a 162 Kb download (about 56 pages) and was priced at $1.99 at the time of writing this review.

30+ yr old author and pianist Jonathan Biss has been playing piano since he's been 10. He's played, studied and admired other composers such as Mozart, Schubert, Brahms etc., but when all is said and done he invariably returns to is first love...Beethoven.

Background... I was attracked to this book for two reasons.
1.) I love Beethoven's music. My first serious contact with classical music was as a late teenager when a roommate played his 5th piano concerto (The Emperor)...I was hooked.
BTW, I'm tone deaf (just ask my wife...lol). Can't play or sing a single note on key, but I've always loved and had a special appreciation for Beethoven's music.

2.) the cover art... a copy of a 1816 manuscript in Beethoven's actual handwriting. This picture brought back memories of when I was reading about Beethoven's life...the music copyists of the time, would often complain bitterly about how difficult it was to accurately make copies of his scores (Beethoven was less than sympathetic)... you can see from this cover just how arduous a task this must have been.

This is a well written and thought out work. It is obviously penned by someone who is intimately familiar with Beethoven's music and able to play the piano at a level only a handful of people might ever achieve. Only a person who absolutely loved what he was doing could write with such passion about a subject, that to this point, has consumed his entire life.

The author briefly discusses, among other things, how his interpretation of any given piece of music has evolved and changed through the years. How he was influenced by respected teachers, old recordings and there is even some philosophical discussions about the unattainable goal in music...perfection, with all its subjective implications.

This is not a book that could appeal to the masses...you'd have to have some love (or at least a liking) for classical music. Because of my affection for Beethoven's work, I found the writing, the thoughts, the anguishes, the concerns and focal points that the author presented in this work made perfect, logical sense to me. I became completely immersed and involved with the thoughts and revelations presented here.

Conclusion:
An author and pianist that can express himself gracefully in either medium... what a gift!

As it is...5 Stars

Ray Nicholson
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating Beethoven, December 22, 2011
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Jonathan Biss, the latest in the lineage where reverence for the composers' intent was the reigning concern of performing musicians, bridges past and present in his insightful discussion of the monumental task of performing and recording the Beethoven sonatas. Of interest not only to musicians but also to the general audience, and certainly to all of us who have had the good fortune to hear him perform.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Challenge of Interpreting Beethoven: Portrait of a Maturing Artist, December 29, 2011
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This is a uniquely intelligent and engaging account of how a prodigious talent wrestles with the monumental challenge of creatively interpreting, in a personally meaningful way, the genius of Beethoven's great piano compositions. As Biss tells his story of recording the complete set of Beethoven Sonatas over a nine-year period, a portrait of the maturing artist emerges. We learn of the various influences on his career and approaches to music making in different contexts - in the stiffness and stillness of the recording studio or in the concert hall interacting with the "emotional resonance" of a responsive audience. "Beethoven's Shadow" is a bravura performance by Jonathan Biss.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rare and Revelatory, October 29, 2012
By 
Yours Truly (New York, New York USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
I learned a lot about Beethoven and his stupendous accomplishments from reading this, but, more importantly, I learned a lot about the work of a top-ranked pianist. Biss is a compelling author, and he reveals what shaped him and his musical abilities as a boy and how ten years out of the conservatory (Curtis) what he considers when he decides what to perform and the commitment it entails. He opened my eyes to the process of recording and how it differs for the musician from performances before an audience. Biss worries that the kind of perfection that can be achieved electronically in the studio contributes to a focus on technical perfection at the expense of expressed passion. We know much more about the work lives of writers, visual artists and actors than we do about pianists (or violinists and other classical musicians.) If more performers wrote about their work with Biss's passion and candor, classical music might have a larger audience.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Approaching music with both certainty and doubt, November 6, 2012
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
This book is to a large extent about Beethoven's sonatas and other musical pieces and how they have been played and interpreted by pianists - including the author himself - over the ages. The book is also essentially autobiographical as it describes Jonathan Biss learning about Beethoven at a very young age and discusses events leading up to his recent decision to record all 32 Beethoven sonatas over a period of nine years. Because of this, some may think Biss is rather too full of himself. This criticism however may not be wholly justified when you remember the paradoxical nature of music itself: music by its very nature can be both esoteric and universal at the same time. We need to experience music primarily at a personal level before we are able to share the experience with the world and examine and dissect it at an intellectual level. This is particularly so when you are involved with music both as a listener and as a musician - which is the case here. Moreover, as Biss notes, "to be a performer, one needs, more than confidence, a kind of certainty - without that, the chances of commanding an audience's attention with one's interpretations seem minimal." The risk that this feeling of confidence and certainty can at times be mistaken for egotism. Biss seems to be aware of this risk when he also observes that there is no quality more powerful or has a greater capacity to move than doubt, awareness that one may not have all the answers. In the end, what comes through in the narrative is an eloquent and absorbing exposition of the author's love for his art, his devotion and passion that support him in his quest to create near perfect music.

A lot of great thinkers and musicians - from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to Percy Grainger - have viewed music as a universal language. John Blacking thought this "universalist outlook" is made possible when human beings are able to transcend the cultural baggage associated with different musical traditions and reach up to the common humanity from which music springs. Given this, if you enjoyed music - any genre of music - you will appreciate reading this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and engaging, January 30, 2012
By 
Rona Hokanson (Bloomington, IN USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
I am already a great admirer of Jonathan Biss's playing. Now I am awed by his ability to write about his recording all of the Beethoven sonatas. He describes his journey to this project and the implications of recording in an intelligent, informative and engaging way. When listening to music, my mind keeps referring to passages in this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile read, January 9, 2012
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
I loved this. The writer has a command of language, and a passion for what he writes. It was wonderful to hear Beethoven described by one who obviously respects and admires him. I've read many books by musicians about their art, or about others of their ilk, but this book stands out from them as being exceptionally written, and written with a clearly human hand.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Initially interesting but tired of the hyperbole and over interpretation / analysis of musical experience., March 28, 2013
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
Didn't read it all. A musician or music critic may enjoy it. The first pages describing personal experience of performance were interesting, but I tired of the over analysis of musical experience, and nonsense about pedigree.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Treasures Digital Perfection Obscures, November 23, 2012
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This review is from: Beethoven's Shadow (Kindle Single) (Kindle Edition)
I give this single five stars because it provides an informed insight into his development as a concert pianist and the influences by the lineage of great Beethoven interpreters on him. More importantly he evaluates the influences on our current attitudes towards the interpretations of Beethoven by great artists of the past. I was especially struck by Jonathan Biss' impressive written evocation of the insights great pianists projected in their performances. His personal encounters with great masters through early recordings shows how our expectations based on current perfections of digital performances may deafen us to the treasures in live performances and recordings in older media.
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