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Memories of Beethoven: From the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards (Canto original series) Paperback – 31 Mar 1995

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Product details

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (31 Mar. 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521484898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521484893
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,338,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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'Indispensable and reliable source for Beethoven scholarship.' The Strad 'Rich in pathos and novelistic detail ... the memoir covers the last year of Beethoven's life and it truly is a gem.' Financial Times ' ... one of the most candid memoirs of the Master'. BBC Music 'This good translation, wisely annotated and well-illustrated, brings us close to Beethoven the man, seen through the boy's keen eyes.' The Observer 'Breuning is full of little personal touches. ... It is in his self-portraits as much as his picture of the composer that Breuning is so touching.' The Guardian

Book Description

This is a firsthand account, translated into English, of Gerhard von Breuning, the son of one of Beethoven's oldest friends and a favourite of the ageing composer, which provides us with telling details about Beethoven's daily life, his personality, his relationships with family and friends, his sickroom and ultimately his death.

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In August 1825 I had the good fortune, during an afternoon walk with my parents, to make the acquaintance of Beethoven. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Viva Verdi on 16 May 2013
Format: Paperback
Gerhard von Breuning was only thirteen when he got to know Beethoven in 1825, a few years before the end of the great composer's life. There is a wonderful charm to his recollections and some of the incidents bring a smile to your face. He wrote the memoirs late in life, though, unfortunately, gives too much credence to Anton Schindler, not realising how discredited he would become with invented incidents and his manipulation of some of Beethoven's communication books. Breuning is more reliable and I particularly liked his confession of the day he decided to test out just how deaf Beethoven was.

If you love Beethoven it is certainly worth reading; it is well edited by Maynard Solomon, with many notes that clarify incidents and anecdotes.
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By Egmont on 5 July 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you are a Beethoven fan, this short book (more an extended essay really) is essential - especially as it is written from the perspective of one who knew the great man. Doesn't quite get everything right - perhaps somewhat over-critical of B's doctors and thinks the shifty Schindler was a truthfully good egg!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
By its nature, what's most obvious can easily escape our attention, so it may be worth noting that Beethoven's era is beyond the recall of any living person. Theoretically, there might now be some living centenarian whose grandfather could have known him, or at least been in his presence and spoken with him - but this is conceptual, and though conjecture is fruitless it's still fascinating. We can't talk with Beethoven or his intimates, none of whom lived into the 20th century - but here one of them operatively speaks to us, if not literally then surely effectively.
Edited by Maynard Solomon and translated for the first time from the original German by him and Henry Mins, the book FROM THE HOUSE OF THE BLACK SPANIARD - REMEMBRANCES OF BEETHOVEN FROM MY YOUTH was authored by Dr. Gerhard von Breuning and first published in Vienna in 1874.
The title is fitting. As a 12-year-old, the author (whose father was a close friend of the composer) was privy to Beethoven's inner circle and played a small but important role in the composer's daily existence during the last year and a half of his life. He helped him in various ways by assisting with his correspondence, running special errands, helping him keep order in his dwelling, and doing what he could during Beethoven's last illness. The boy eventually developed for the composer a feeling approaching worship. Beethoven reciprocated this devotion by guiding some of the boy's musical education. When the young Gerhard eventually asked the older man's permission to address him with the familiar Du (rather than the formal Sie), the boy was overjoyed when Beethoven consented.
Dr. Solomon says in the book's introduction, "Like many children, Gerhard was a keen observer of small details..." This boy, who became a respected Viennese physician, evidently was the early 19th-century counterpart of today's "kid who doesn't miss a thing" (even pinpointing in his book such details as the exact location and number of windows of Beethoven's street-facing top floor apartment). His precision was fortunate and significant for posterity: it extended even to the minutest specifics about Beethoven's dwelling, personality and character, mood swings, daily conversations about his circumstances, personal preferences and other matters now irretrievably beyond our reach and forever lost. Often even the smallest details, about any subject, can be keys to opening large doors behind which are answers to some important questions. Beethoven's life was dramatic enough without the need for embellishment a-la-Hollywood, and von Breuning illuminates his subject from the real-world viewpoint.
His book takes its name from the building, the Schwarzspanierhaus (House of the Black Spaniard) - Beethoven's last residence, and where he died on Monday, March 26, 1827. In Vienna today, the site of the house (demolished ca.1904) is Schwarzspanierstrasse 15, marked with a memorial plaque and the characteristic red and white Austrian banner. In his day the address was 200 Alsergrund am Glacis. Because of its Beethoven connection the street was later renamed Schwarzspanierstrasse: the composer's swarthy complexion in his youth prompted some to call him The Black Spaniard - which in turn might have been what induced a few revisionist claims in our day that the composer was negro.
When Gerhard von Breuning died in 1892 he was the last survivor of those who had personally known Beethoven. Though his accounts were written late in life, he was there to witness the events of the composer's last years. This gives us not only a more immediate picture, but perhaps more importantly, bottom-line details which shed a bright light on what transpired more than a century and a half ago. This proximity gives special value to accounts like these.
Among the book's photographs are Beethoven's desk, the entrance hall and main door to the very apartment he occupied in the Schwarzspanierhaus, the building's exterior, an intriguiging floor plan of the actual dwelling, and Gerhard von Breuning himself in old age.
Perhaps the most compelling illustration is a superb photograph of Beethoven's life-mask, made by Franz Klein in 1812. It's compelling because it offers a literal glimpse into the past: Beethoven lived before the advent of photography, but this life mask represents him effectively as he looked at 42 and gives us the most accurate rendering we have of his physical features. Artists might disagree - but this illustration, by its very immediacy, seems to enlarge and strengthen the links in the chain that binds us to our own musical history.
Von Breuning's reports range from the humorous and fascinating - about Beethoven's fondness for puns and sarcasm - to the exasperating and even heartbreaking: Gerhard was devastated when as a young adult the numerous handwritten notes he had received from Beethoven were inadvertently discarded by a servant who thought they were trash.
This book is for those who want to know about Beethoven from someone who truly knew him. Historians compile and present an amalgam of data; author von Breuning via editor Solomon takes us into a courtroom and displays primary evidence unsullied by the traditional legendary gloss, the ghosts of myth, and the passage of more than 17 decades. Though no-one's memory is infallible, he still places before us, devoid of cosmetic veneer, the raw material from which we can experience our own reactions, form our own opinions, and draw our own conclusions.
The editor of this work has prepared a book that can be read and enjoyed by both reader and scholar. It's content is authentic, not synthetic - a treasury of material taken from a primary source: someone who literally knew Beethoven and who reports from this distinctive perspective. There are few if any substitutes for accounts like these, and a more superlative book of this type would be hard to imagine.
There's no other book quite like it so its singularity makes it quite special. About Beethoven there are countless tomes, perhaps more than about any other composer, but this book provides something rather unique, which adds to its value: a compendium of fascinating details that would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, to find in any other single volume. The book is, in a word, superb and for both the reader and researcher can be enjoyable, even fascinating and, perhaps more importantly, enlightening reading.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful little book! 4 Jun. 2007
By Southern Gal - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The previous reviewer did an excellent job in describing this book but I must give the book five stars. There is not much more I can add. The book is written in a delightful, honest, sensitive, and engrossing manner. What the previous reviewer wrote is true. Gerhard did come to address Beethoven in a familiar rather than a more formal manner. And Beethoven nicknamed the boy "Trouserbutton" as their close and loving relationship developed. Beethoven is shown as the man rather than the sometimes difficult genius we read about. What a gift Gerhard von Breuning has given us in recording his memories for later generations!

One thing I must comment on is how Beethoven is described to have faced impending death with grace and dignity. Beethoven had to have been in incredible pain during those last months. Not only did Beethoven suffer greatly from his disease but horrible bedsores were discovered when Beethoven's body was moved after his death. Yet it is recorded that he rarely complained.

I cannot imagine anyone not thoroughly enjoying this book. This is a book that I will keep in my personal library for a very long time.
You'll Love This One!! 4 April 2009
By The Statt Family - Published on
Format: Paperback
To someone immensely enjoying delving into the life of my favorite composer, this book was the "icing on the cake"! What better remembrances to read than those of a boy whose family rekindled an ealier friendship with the aging composer. You'll find interesting trivia not found elsewhere, such as the layout of his final large apartment, portraits of both Beethoven and others in his life. (Gerhard shares which ones he and his father felt were most realistic). It is sad to read of how much physical suffering Beethoven endured at the end, yet rarely complained. Also, how Vienna (previously apathetic to older Beethoven) became frenzied after his death for souvenirs. - Jonna Lambrosa Statt -
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