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Beethoven: The Universal Composer (Eminent Lives) by [Morris, Edmund]
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Beethoven: The Universal Composer (Eminent Lives) Kindle Edition

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"Vivid...Morris deftly sorts his way through Beethoven's biography."--New York Times Book Review

"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."--Publishers Weekly

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. --Publishers Weekly"

Vivid...Morris deftly sorts his way through Beethoven s biography. --New York Times Book Review"

From the Back Cover

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was a composer of universal genius whose popularity, extraordinary even during his lifetime, has never ceased to grow and now encircles the globe. His most famous works are as beloved in Beijing as they are in Boston. A lifelong devotee, Edmund Morris, the author of three bestselling presidential biographies, brings the great composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence a gigantic, compulsively creative personality unable to tolerate constraints. But Beethoven's achievement rests in his immortal music, whose grandeur and beauty were conceived "on the other side of silence.""

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 362 KB
  • Print Length: 258 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060759755
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books; Reprint edition (13 Oct. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OVLJP0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #766,896 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars 54 reviews
93 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best short biographies 23 Nov. 2005
By David E. Levine - Published on Amazon.com
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. Beethoven became something of a prodigy, not like Mozart as a composer (althopugh he certaily was a very fine one) but more as a performer. He became famous early on and he was certainly the preeminent composer of his day. He became the great composer he was despite numerous demons. Remarkably, he composed much of his greatest work while stone deaf. He suffered from ill health and Mr, Morris speculates that he may have had a case of typhus which led to his loss of hearing, or, perhaps he suffered from lupus.

Beethoven had other demons. At times he was almost psychotic. He was paranoid. He was a tragic failure in his love life and his "immortal beloved" letters are heart rending. He never had children and after his brother Caspar died, by way of protracted litigation, he got custody of his nephew Karl. Beethoven consiodered Karl his son, not his nephew, perhaps to the point of being delusional. He did everything he could to prevent Karl from seeing and communicating with his mother. Certainly, taking a child away from his mother is hardly meritorious conduct. Quite frankly, Beethoven was not someone who we would consider to be a "nice guy." Nonetheless, despite all that he went through, mentally, emotionally and physically,he produced extrordinary music. How can someone who lived such a miserable life have produced music of such unabond joy such as the 9th Symphony?

Morris is very knowledgable about music and, indeed he is an accomplished pianist. In fact, during the book signing I attended, he sat down at the piano to demonstrate sounds that Beethoven produced which were influenced by the sounds he "heard" in his deafness. Therefore, Morris is able to explain technical aspects of Beethoven's compositions. He does so in a manner which does not make it overly obtuse to the reader who is not expert in music theory (that would encompass most of us). This short biography (a little less than 250 pages) is packed with insights into the remarkable Beethoven. I highly recommend this book to those who love Beethoven's music and to those who, perhaps would like to become afficionados.
80 of 88 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beethoven Over All 26 Feb. 2007
By David A. Wend - Published on Amazon.com
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. 70, and the little known, tranquilly lovely Mass in C major." This seems quite an exaggeration, and my advice for Mr. Morris is to listen to WFMT, but not on December 16.

I found myself skimming the book particularly from Mr. Morris' pedantic style of writing. His overuse of foreign words was a bit much and while in some cases the use of foreign phrases is interesting and even a necessity there were many times in this book when they were unnecessary. An example, "Max Franz was receptive to the Count [Ferdinand Waldstein] - who quickly became a court favorite - but showed no interest in favoring Ludwig over any of the other musici." Can't we simply refer to them as musicians?

Beethoven's music is covered, for the most part, succinctly by Mr. Morris, as I would have expected in a book of this length and events in the composer's life are well-presented - particularly Beethoven's relationship with this nephew Karl. Regrettably, Mr. Morris says nothing of Beethoven's interest in Schubert's music that happened during his final illness. Schubert was among his visitors and the dying Beethoven asked to see him before other friends who were present. As it is, Mr. Morris relates that Schubert was a torchbearer during Beethoven's funeral and notes that Schubert was buried near Beethoven and continued to be dominated by him.

Unfortunately, I cannot say that Mr. Morris provided the well-rounded portrait of Beethoven that I was seeking, and I plan to turn to a longer biography of the composer. I came away from reading this book that I needed another point of view concerning Beethoven.
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Succinct and complete 15 Nov. 2005
By Craig - Published on Amazon.com
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.
33 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars An unfortunate book on Beethoven 8 Jan. 2006
By W. R. Shindle - Published on Amazon.com
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.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written short biography of Beethoven 15 July 2008
By Steven Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Edmund Morris' biography of Ludwig van Beethoven, part of the "Eminent Lives" series, is delightful. Edmund Morris has written biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. He also plays piano, studies music, and has been examining Beethoven for decades and decades. The combination works very well here.

The front dust jacket comments place this 200 page volume in perspective. "Edmund Morris, the author of three bestselling presidential biographies and a lifelong devotee of Beethoven, brings the great composer to life as a man of astonishing complexity and overpowering intelligence." This book is well worth looking at, if one wishes an accessible biography of Beethoven coupled with an insightful reading of his music (at least I think that it is insightful).

Morris begins by noting that (Page 2): "Of all the great composers, Beethoven is the most enduring in his appeal to dilettantes and intellectuals alike." Agree or disagree, that is a common view of the composer. Morris points out that Beethoven's early compositions were pretty radical for the day--only to become even more so in his late works (e.g., the Grosse Fugue).

This book covers the personal life of Beethoven, much of it rather tortured. His family life was not especially great. His father in essence exploited him as a "child prodigy," even lying about Ludwig's age to make him seem more incredible as a young artist. We see his pain as deafness sets in and his personal life remains unfulfilled, with his "Heiligenstadt Testament." Then, the "Immortal Beloved" letter of 1812 (Morris, by the way, provides an answer as to who this person was--different from whom I had concluded played this role when I took the question seriously 20 or so years ago). There is also the strained relationship with his brother and his nephew Karl. Was he an ogre with Karl? An inept "father figure"? What?

This is a most literate biography, covering his early years, his interactions with Mozart and Haydn, his development of relationships with nobles who would provide financial support for his work. But what makes it special for me is that Morris appears to know Beethoven's music well, and he folds his musical observations into the text in a way that I find enchanting. He notes how some early notes later became the Third Symphony and how some written comments later became the heart of the 9th Symphony. Those who have seen the movie "Eroica" can appreciate Morris' description of the first rehearsal.

The chapter labeled "Valedictory" lays out Beethoven's last months. The final chapter, "Epilogue," attempts to give some closure the book (how successful I leave to the individual reader). This is a relatively brief biography, but literate, properly critical, and appreciative of Beethoven's contributions to our heritage. I do believe that this would be a welcome volume for someone who wants entrée to Beethoven the person and Beethoven the artist.
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