Experiencing Beethoven

A Listener's Companion

By (author) Geoffrey Block

Hardback - £41.00

Publication date:

29 September 2016

Length of book:

290 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9781442245457

The life and music of Beethoven still fascinate classical music lovers, new and old. His many symphonies, sonatas, concertos, string quartets, and his one opera enchant audiences, challenge performers, engage students, and support scholars in their work. In Experiencing Beethoven, music historian Geoffrey Block explores in layman’s terms a highly representative body of about two dozen Beethoven instrumental and vocal works, offering listeners who know him well, or are just discovering him, an opportunity to grasp the breadth and depth of his musical genius.

Designed for those unversed in musical terminology or theory, Experiencing Beethoven places the composer’s works within the evolving context of his personal and professional life and social and cultural milieu. Block sheds light on the public and private audiences of Beethoven’s music, from the concerts for the composer’s own financial benefit to the debut of the “Eroica” Symphony at the palace of Prince Lobkowitz to the historic public premiere of his Ninth Symphony.

Experiencing Beethoven paints a portrait of the composer’s youth in Bonn, his early triumphs and artistic maturation in Vienna, and—despite the challenges his music posed to his contemporaries— the recognition he received during his lifetime as the most acclaimed composer of the era. Block conveys the range and scope of Beethoven’s achievement, from his heroic style to his lyricism, grappling throughout with the composer’s power to communicate his idealistic musical vision to listeners in both his time and ours. Finally, Experiencing Beethoven explores why Beethoven’s music continues to enjoy an unwavering appeal in an age saturated with a range of musical styles.
Block’s new entry in the series discusses perhaps the most iconic composer in the Western tradition. The literature on Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) is overwhelming, from biography to musical analysis, including books on single works. The author presents analysis of both familiar works (seven of the nine symphonies, seven of the piano sonatas, three string quartets, and two piano concertos), as well as lesser-known ones such as the Joseph Cantata, the Choral Fantasy, various songs, and Wellington’s Victory. An interesting feature is the integration of descriptions of concert premieres with musical analysis (the first performance of the Choral Fantasy suffered an orchestral breakdown), which is accessible and provocative (the series is avowedly for the nonspecialist) though might have been enhanced with minimal musical examples. The book includes a glossary of musical terms, forms, and tempo descriptions. VERDICT For 'nonspecialist' listeners wishing to dive more deeply into an analysis of Beethoven’s works and classical music generally.