on August 23, 2008
John Bell Young's Beethoven Symphonies, A Guided Tour from the Unlock the Master Series (Amadeus Press) is an immensely enjoyable read. Mr. Young succeeds in distilling his vast knowledge and understanding of these masterpieces into a form and style that are clear and comprehensible to the musical layman or amateur de musique, while remaining of substantial interest to the music professional as well. Mr. Young's advantage is that he is not only a writer of exceptional skill but also a top-rank pianist. He thus comes to the subject with an artist's keen ear to nuance, detail and expressive intent, and thereby avoids the polite decorum and often deadening chill of academe. His writing is tiger-bright, often alive and kicking. He makes no bones about the fact that the comments accompanying his guided tour through Beethoven's monumental creations are of a personal and subjective nature. However, it would be misleading to assume that his observations are somehow based on whim or mere fancy; to the contrary, it is apparent from the first paragraphs that Mr. Young's opinions are rigorously grounded in a broad knowledge of not only musical matters (i.e. analysis and style), but also are founded on an encompassing grasp of the cultural movements and ideas that contributed to making Beethoven's music possible. It is this breadth of outlook on Mr. Young's part, the fruit of an unusually supple and curious mind, that makes this rather modest book so important and refreshing, and sets it apart from others in the genre. The author's choice of Furtwangler's profound interpretations of the Symphonies is a great bonus. Highly recommended.
on December 22, 2014
What a shame Amadeus Press did not select David Hurwitz to write this book. Young is a gifted pianist and writer, but as a communicator about one of the most significant composers and the one who defined the symphony for a century, his text leaves little of significance. One could easily remove 90% of the text and not miss anything. Young has to say about the symphonies. The cd is poor recordings from Music & Arts, live performances from the end of Furtwangler's career. They were probably selected since I doubt any royalties were paid. Young was apparently under restrictions not to use very much formal musical language and no musical examples. To overcome these limitations, he uses what sounds like inflated 19th century descriptions with abstract relationships to abstract medium. Fortunately, the best I can get out of this book are examples to read to others for amusement. For a really well written book on the Beethoven symphonies with useful insights obtain Antony Hopkins' work. .
on March 15, 2011
I was highly disappointed by this book. I was expecting to uncover new insights into the music, and instead got a lot of hyperbole and fluff.
Maybe it just wasn't an appropriate book for me; it's a gentle read with some interesting historical information throughout if you can stomach the empty language. However, I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone for the accompanying CD. Find a different recording, please, and throw the CD away.