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Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792-1803

2.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520211582
ISBN-10: 0520211588
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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

"It was high time that someone tried to explain more fully, and on the basis of the known documents, the course of Beethoven's meteoric rise to fame in Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century. . . . I would consider this cleverly written and authoritative book to be the most important about Beethoven in twenty-five years. No one considering the subject will be able to overlook DeNora's research."—H.C. Robbins Landon, author of Beethoven: His Life, Work, and World

"This is a study with the power to reshape our perceptions of Beethoven's first decade in Vienna and substantially refine our notions of the creation and foundations of Beethoven's career."—William Meredith, Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University

"Professor DeNora's achievement in placing Beethoven, and the reception of Beethoven's music, in social context is all the more impressive because it goes so much against the grain of conventional habits of thought. In illuminating how changing social institutions created opportunities for Beethoven to gain contemporary and posthumous recognition, and, in so doing, created new forms for thinking and talking about musical achievement—the author at once provides fresh insights into the institutional origins of 'classical' music and offers an exemplary contribution to the sociological study of the arts."—Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

"An important landmark in our understanding of the relationship of the creative musician to society, and a vital contribution to debates about the central phenomenon which distinguishes Western music from other musical traditions: the phenomenon of the Great Composer."—Julian Rushton, University of Leeds

"This original book argues that Beethoven's high reputation was created as much by the social-cultural agendas of his aristocratic Viennese patrons in the 1790s as by the qualities of his music. DeNora's persuasive reading of this momentous cultural-artistic event will be welcome to sociologists for its successful contextualization of a hero of 'absolute music,' as well as to musicologists and music-lovers who wish to move beyond the myth of Beethoven as 'the man who freed music.'"—James Webster, Cornell University

"Lucid, well-researched, and theoretically informed, Beethoven and the Construction of Genius is one of the best works yet published in the historical sociology of culture. DeNora makes important contributions not only to our knowledge of Beethoven and of the social construction of genius but to the general problems of how identities are created, shaped, and sustained and of how aesthetic claims gain authority."—Craig Calhoun, University of North Carolina

From the Back Cover

"It was high time that someone tried to explain more fully, and on the basis of the known documents, the course of Beethoven's meteoric rise to fame in Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century. . . . I would consider this cleverly written and authoritative book to be the most important about Beethoven in twenty-five years. No one considering the subject will be able to overlook DeNora's research."--H.C. Robbins Landon, author of "Beethoven: His Life, Work, and World

"This is a study with the power to reshape our perceptions of Beethoven's first decade in Vienna and substantially refine our notions of the creation and foundations of Beethoven's career."--William Meredith, Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University

"Professor DeNora's achievement in placing Beethoven, and the reception of Beethoven's music, in social context is all the more impressive because it goes so much against the grain of conventional habits of thought. In illuminating how changing social institutions created opportunities for Beethoven to gain contemporary and posthumous recognition, and, in so doing, created new forms for thinking and talking about musical achievement--the author at once provides fresh insights into the institutional origins of 'classical' music and offers an exemplary contribution to the sociological study of the arts."--Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

"An important landmark in our understanding of the relationship of the creative musician to society, and a vital contribution to debates about the central phenomenon which distinguishes Western music from other musical traditions: the phenomenon of the Great Composer."--Julian Rushton, University ofLeeds

"This original book argues that Beethoven's high reputation was created as much by the social-cultural agendas of his aristocratic Viennese patrons in the 1790s as by the qualities of his music. DeNora's persuasive reading of this momentous cultural-artistic event will be welcome to sociologists for its successful contextualization of a hero of 'absolute music, ' as well as to musicologists and music-lovers who wish to move beyond the myth of Beethoven as 'the man who freed music.'"--James Webster, Cornell University

"Lucid, well-researched, and theoretically informed, "Beethoven and the Construction of Genius is one of the best works yet published in the historical sociology of culture. DeNora makes important contributions not only to our knowledge of Beethoven and of the social construction of genius but to the general problems of how identities are created, shaped, and sustained and of how aesthetic claims gain authority."--Craig Calhoun, University of North Carolina

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 252 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (November 3, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520211588
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520211582
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,590,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is scholarly and well-written book. However, it is not about whether Beethoven was a genius, it's about how the concept of genius changed in Beethoven's lifetime. So, I guess it's History of Sociology. Falls into the language of Lacan, which some find offensive.
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Format: Hardcover
It's tempting to start this review by saying sociologists should stay away from musical topics, at least if they can't appreciate music, and I mean *appreciate* rather than "enjoy." But maybe a fairer criticism would be if you're going to upset the apple cart this much, you'd really better have a sturdier theory than Tina DeNora has here. DeNora is a sociologist at the University of Exeter, and she thinks Beethoven's genius was constructed by society. She says Beethoven's place in the musical firmament was a result of certain aspiring elite aristocrats of the time having a predilection for Beethoven's "difficult" music in an attempt at social one-upmanship and wanting to use him to advance their own standing in Vienna. To put it simply, Ludwig was at the right place at the right time, he had the luck. There is no analysis of the music itself in this book, because she has decided it is irrelevant. I'm not kidding.

DeNora would likely argue that our criteria for "greatness" have been pre-determined by the very elements that we then go into a "great work" looking for. The aesthetics of criticism are a social construct, and so is the music; therefore it's no wonder the two fit together so well. Music criticism is taste writ large, that's all. (Sociology, on the other hand, is not subject to these social tastes and trends, of course.)

Actually, I felt upon approaching this book there may be something to her argument. As Michael Walsh jokingly and insightfully remarked in his book Who's Afraid of Classical Music, "Ludwig 'Rights o' Man' Beethoven was always sucking up to royalty in his dedications." It's hard to deny: he knew who buttered his bread. It's easy to view talent, especially when from the distant past, in a vacuum that we don't extend to the present.
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Format: Paperback
Are we really to believe that the music of this man does not speak for itself? Was it really his "political connections" and "who he knew" that led to his success in 19th century Vienna? Are there really other Beethovens running around out there who just haven't gotten a break. A nice parlor exercise perhaps, but really.....how about a serious listen to what he actually wrote down! What I am suggesting is a serious listen. Why, for example, does his work seem to have a much higher density of sheer thought (form if you like) than that of any other composer? Why are his thematic constructs so intellectually exhilarating as well as emotionally moving? Why does he exemplify the most startling development of style of almost anyone you can think of in the arts? What is it about his almost extra-material universal appeal? Listen to the music. Maybe the answers are found there.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you've ever wondered what musicians were paid in Beethoven's era, and what their professional life was like, and how concert programs were assembled and presented, and just how the concept of "genius" came to dominate our thinking about talent & music, then you should read this book! I give it my strongest recommendation for anyone seriously interested in the profession and its history, not just to lovers of Beethoven's compositions.
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