Beethoven: The Universal Composer

Paperback | February 9, 2010

byEdmund Morris

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“Brilliant....This book is a perfect marriage—or should one say, duet—of subject and author, every word as masterly as the notes of the artist it illuminates.” — Christopher Buckley, Forbes

“This is not just criticism but poetry in itself, with the additional—and inestimable—merit of being true.” — Washington Post Book World

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, Dutch) is one of America’s most distinguished biographers, known for his rich, compulsively readable prose style. His biography of Beethoven, one of the most admired composers in the history of music, is above all a study of genius in action, of one of the few giants of Western culture. Beethoven is another engaging entry in the HarperCollins’ “Eminent Lives” series of biographies by distinguished authors on canonical figures.

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From the Publisher

“Brilliant....This book is a perfect marriage—or should one say, duet—of subject and author, every word as masterly as the notes of the artist it illuminates.” — Christopher Buckley, Forbes“This is not just criticism but poetry in itself, with the additional—and inestimable—merit of being true.” — Washington Post Book World Pulitzer Pr...

From the Jacket

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 biogra...

Edmund Morris is the author ofThe Rise of Theodore Roosevelt(Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award),Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, andTheodore Rex(Los Angeles TimesBook Prize). A pianist and private scholar of music, he has been studying Beethoven for a half century.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8 × 5.31 × 0.58 inPublished:February 9, 2010Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0060759755

ISBN - 13:9780060759759

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Customer Reviews of Beethoven: The Universal Composer


Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bogs Down in Places, But Still Satisfies Before preparing to dig into Beethoven: The Universal Composer by Edmund Morris, you’d be well advised to stock up on a fairly complete collection of his works to accompany your reading. Written by Edmund Morris, this brief biography of the man who is arguably the world’s greatest composer is filled densely with commentary, not only on his life, but upon his very compositions. Seamlessly weaving together Beethoven’s life and art, Morris (himself a pianist and private music scholar) gives at least equal page space to the music as much as he does to the man. Well researched, readers are steered through Beethoven’s life while avoiding most conjecture, and as forgery is separated from fact, conjecture from the concrete.The author’s skilled guidance is much appreciated by one with little knowledge of the composer’s life outside of caricature-like character sketches. Still, it is easy enough to become bogged down in the technical descriptions of Beethoven’s sonatas, symphonies, quartets, and so on, as the number of his works multiplies exponentially throughout his life. Even with the aid of the period-appropriate glossary of musical terms to guide the uninitiated through these descriptions, I struggled to ‘hear’ the compositions that were referenced by name and written description alone. Clearly describing music with the written word is a difficult task at best, even for the most accomplished of authors. Morris also firmly places Beethoven in history, clearly illuminating his influences, the turbulent political climate he lived through, and the nobility that offered him patronage and hospitality (if not true understanding) throughout his lifetime. More captivating to me, however, were Morris’ descriptions of the man himself: passionate, driven, and very much the social misfit. Morris draws no gentle veil across the face of one of history’s geniuses, and with an artist so clearly human, he never shies away from the contradictions so common in a human life. Beethoven, while he composes religious music in his later life, is both devout and faithful with daily prayer and theological studies; at the same time he continues to frequent prostitutes while harboring a secret love for a married woman. Clearly, this adult-level biography is best suited for older readers, though the text is never explicit or vulgar. Though Morris clearly strives for only what can be historically shown, he clearly attributes Beethoven with not only the wild behavior in his later years that he is so associated with, but also with a deeper torment of the soul. Some of the book’s most poignant and emotionally powerful passages are those relating to Beethoven’s final years – his increasing paranoia, his failing health, and his wild emotional inconsistencies. Amusingly, Morris at times abandons clear readability in exchange for artificially (and at times repetitive) puffed-up vocabulary. When combined with long passages describing the technical merits of Beethoven’s music, this can result in some slogging through the text on the part of the reader. Still, I found this work more readable and engaging as it progressed, and as I in turn came to know the man it described more closely. For the curious general reader, there is certainly enough of Beethoven here to satisfy. Reviewed at
Date published: 2010-04-22

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Editorial Reviews

“Vivid...Morris deftly sorts his way through Beethoven’s biography.”