Music Ludwig van Beethoven
by
John D. Wilson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0272

Introduction

Few if any other composers in the history of European art music have inspired more words on paper than Ludwig van Beethoven. Even during his lifetime (b. 1770–d. 1827), Beethoven’s music inspired both heated debate and thoughtful reaction among some of the era’s most influential critics and philosophers, a discourse which would only intensify after his death and establish him as a singular force in musical thought and a formidable challenge for future composers. His seemingly all-encompassing absorption of the musical language of the 18th century, and his mastery over the full range of its expressive potential, attracted notice among connoisseurs, fortuitously as newly established concert-giving institutions and specialized journals began to conceive of and shape a canon of musical works. At the same time, many other listeners sensed that his music—in its dynamism and rude, often explosive contrasts—projected a sui generis compositional persona, a perception which spurred on his younger creative peers. If there is a red thread in the variegated written responses over the last 250 years, it is the tension between these two views of Beethoven, as a culmination of the past and as a finger pointing firmly toward the future. While words on Beethoven have surely been written in every language in which music is written about, the most essential ones for the modern student or scholar are in German and English, and serious research requires reading proficiency in both languages. Not all of the primary sources have been translated into English, to say nothing of important secondary literature, and in recent years the German academic publishing market has been robustly producing a number of fine compendia and reference works. English-language scholarship has historically distinguished itself, on the other hand, in biography and Sketch Studies. And while it might come as a surprise that there still remain neglected aspects of Beethoven’s body of work, it does not take long for the reader to realize that many words have been devoted to a relatively small corner of his output—namely a handful of Symphonies, String Quartets, piano Sonatas, and other instrumental works that embody what has come to be known as the “heroic style.” Much of the freshest recent scholarship, then, explores the previously marginalized works—music for dancing, singing, worship, the theater, political celebrations—while another belated but welcome development focuses on the historical, intellectual, and aesthetic contexts that shaped his music.

General Overviews

Given the immense amount of scholarship on Beethoven and his music, it is regrettable that accessible overviews in English are so rare—the Grove Music Online article (Kerman, et al. 2001) has not been significantly updated in over forty years, aside from an admirable final section on Reception and an expansion of the bibliography, both from the late 1990s. Cooper 1991 and Stanley 2000 therefore remain better starting points for the English-speaking student or scholar. Far more comprehensive and up-to-date treatments are, on the other hand, found in German publications. The similarly titled Beethoven-Handbuch and Das Beethoven-Handbuch both offer thorough and recent compendia of scholarship on the works and their context, the latter multivolume set even more so. Even for readers with little German, these are worth consulting for their copious citations.

  • Cooper, Barry, ed. The Beethoven Compendium: A Guide to Beethoven’s Life and Music. London: Thames & Hudson, 1991.

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    Organized in thirteen well-defined chapters by four authors on numerous aspects of Beethoven’s biography and music—including his timeline, family tree, contemporaries, personality, philosophy, musical background, working methods and daily schedule, performance practice, reception, and literature—each with its own concisely written subchapters. While neither exhaustive in any one aspect nor particularly daring in its interpretive stances, it offers the best overview in English of the facts and the primary sources behind them.

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  • Hiemke, Sven, ed. Beethoven-Handbuch. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2009.

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    Besides a large introductory chapter on “Beethoven and his World” and a closing one on Reception, the focus is squarely on each musical genre, each given its own chapter by a different expert that first outlines epistemological problems and then delves into individual works in lesser or greater detail. Most valuable in its summaries of critical and historiographical discourses, backed up by well-selected but not all equally exhaustive bibliographies. Available online with a subscription to EBSCOhost eBooks.

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  • Kerman, Joseph, Alan Tyson, Scott Burnham, and William Drabkin. “Beethoven, Ludwig van.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    While a colorfully written classic, the core of the article—its biography and works sections (each over forty years old)—reflects a fairly dated perspective. The newer section on reception by Scott Burnham is, on the other hand, an excellent introduction to the topic. Overall, most useful as a reference given its works list and bibliography, even if the latter is over twenty years out of date.

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  • Riethmüller, Albrecht, gen. ed. Das Beethoven-Handbuch. 6 vols. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 2008–2019.

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    One of the most ambitious overviews to date, these six large volumes include four on the music and two on context. Each of the musical volumes has one to three chapters on each particular genre and several contextualizing essays, therefore covering practically every work. The most indispensable is Volume 6, which contains brief entries on people, places, and ideas that Beethoven came in contact with, each with a brief bibliography.

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  • Stanley, Glenn. The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Focuses primarily on the music and its reception in a series of seventeen sharply focused essays by sixteen of the most prominent experts. Topics range from historiography and formal strategies to more summary treatments of the music by genre. Despite its relative brevity and heterogeneity of critical and analytic perspectives, this volume covers a surprising amount of ground and, due to the talent of its scholarly line-up, is packed with startling insights. Includes an excellent bibliography.

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Reference Works and Online Resources

The volume and complexity of source material surrounding Beethoven’s music has raised the bar for a truly reliable thematic catalogue, but this daunting task has been achieved in exemplary fashion with Dorfmüller, et al. 2014. Furthermore, Clive 2001 is a handy volume for quickly looking up the persons and institutions that played a role in the composer’s life. The valuable online resource, Digital Archives of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, provides among other records a work-by-work summary of the sources and links to digitized copies of them in their library and elsewhere. Any bibliography faces intractable challenges, since scholarly literature is published at such a rate as to make a comprehensive one seem at times a Sisyphean venture. However, the Beethoven Gateway is a promising online resource maintained by the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San José State University, whose catalogue provides not only annotations and keyword searches of their collections, but often English abstracts as well—a particular help for locating German scholarship. While no catalogue raisonné of autograph manuscripts has been published to date, the Boston University Center for Beethoven Research maintains a running list of those which are freely available on the web, Beethoven Autographs Online.

  • Beethoven Autographs Online

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    A constantly updated list of autograph manuscripts for which complete scans are available online, maintained by the Boston University Center for Beethoven Research, organized by opus/WoO number. The same institution hosts a similarly structured catalogue of first editions as well, with locations of all known exemplars.

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  • Beethoven Gateway.

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    Originally conceived in the early 1990s as a fully indexed catalogue of the materials in the collections of the Beethoven Center in San José, this growing online resource has now split into several sections, and now goes beyond these to encompass a database of Beethoven materials sold at auctions and a separate bibliographical database.

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  • Clive, Peter. Beethoven and His World: A Biographical Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    A useful, extraordinarily well-sourced lexicon of persons and institutions who played a role in the composer’s life. Includes a detailed timeline, family tree, and multiple indexes.

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  • Digital Archives of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

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    Not only a resource for concise, reliable information on the history of each work, but a rich repository of multimedia content from the Beethoven-Haus archive’s collections, including music manuscripts, early editions, letters, portraits, contemporary engravings of key locations, and free-use sound clips. Over 37,600 high-quality scans, and the majority of the thousands of explanatory texts are available in both English and German.

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  • Dorfmüller, Kurt, Norbert Gertsch, and Julia Ronge, eds, Ludwig van Beethoven: Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis. 2 vols. Munich: Henle, 2014.

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    In collaboration with Gertraut Haberkamp and the Beethoven-Haus Bonn, a much revised and expanded version of the 1955 thematic catalogue by Georg Kinsky and Hans Halm. Not only does it include up-to-date information on chronology, sketches, autograph scores, relevant copyist manuscripts, historical performance materials, and first editions, but also each entry has a brief explanatory essay on the work’s origins and evaluations of all known publications up to 1830 (including the location of extant copies), as well as extensive concordances and bibliography.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis, and Jeremy Rudkin, dirs. Beethoven Autographs Online. In Boston University Center for Beethoven Research. Boston: Boston University, 2019.

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    A constantly updated list of autograph manuscripts for which complete scans are available online, maintained by the Boston University Center for Beethoven Research, organized by opus/WoO number. The same institution hosts a similarly structured catalogue of first editions as well, with locations of all known exemplars.

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Music Editions

The old complete Beethoven edition, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Werke, was a landmark in 19th-century music-philological methods. It is being gradually supplanted by the new complete edition, Ludwig van Beethoven: Werke, begun in the early 1960s according to modern text-critical standards—with a composer who left behind so many relevant sources, this is a tall order. In the mid-1990s, the publisher Bärenreiter began a competing Urtext edition with editor Jonathan Del Mar (The New Bärenreiter Urtext Edition), which has proceeded at a dizzying pace, even if many of Del Mar’s editing decisions have been tendentious. The Ludwig van Beethoven: Supplemente zur Gesamtausgabe prints items left out of the old complete edition, many of which—such as completions of fragmentary works and earlier versions—will not be replaced.

Biographical Documents

Partly as a result of the fame that accumulated throughout the second half of his life, Beethoven’s inner and outer lives are extraordinarily well documented, particularly for his last decade. The sheer amount of existing material and its widespread geographic distribution has posed challenges to making it widely available in comprehensive, annotated form, but this foundational work has accelerated since the fall of the Iron Curtain. All of his accessible correspondence (save a few letters that have only recently surfaced) have been published in their original languages with generous annotation in Brandenburg 1997–1998. A reliable English translation of every letter is still lacking (Anderson 1961, while undeniably flawed, is still the most complete English edition), but Albrecht 1996–1997 provides accurate and enjoyably idiomatic translations of the letters written to Beethoven, along with many other documents by him or about him, some of which are not in the complete German edition. Beethoven kept two diaries at different points in his life which have survived: Busch-Weise 1962 gives a transcription of one from his early Vienna years (1792–1794) and Solomon 1988 gives a translation and commentary of one from 1812–1818. The composer’s near-total deafness from 1818 has provided a unique record of his last decade: the conversation books. During this period, he kept small books of unlined paper with him, at home or on the go, in which his conversation partners wrote down what they wanted to tell him. These were transcribed first in Köhler and Herre 1968–2001 and are currently being translated; the first two English volumes have appeared as Albrecht 2018. Far less direct documentation exists for the composer’s formative years in Bonn, but see Braubach 1995 and Wetzstein 2006 for extensively annotated primary sources from the young Beethoven’s circle. Kopitz and Cadenbach 2009 is an invaluable collection of all known reminiscences of Beethoven by his contemporaries, some all but inaccessible.

  • Albrecht, Theodore, trans. and ed. Letters to Beethoven and Other Correspondence. 3 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996–1997.

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    Includes 275 letters to Beethoven, several others by him, and other significant documents about him that, strictly speaking, do not count as letters (which are therefore not included in Brandenburg 1997–1998). All told, over five hundred items are rendered in elegant, lively English that attempts to distinguish the individual style of each writer while remaining idiomatic. Annotations are plentiful without being exhaustive.

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  • Albrecht, Theodore, trans. and ed. Beethoven’s Conversation Books. 2 volumes. London: Boydell & Brewer, 2018–.

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    Albrecht brings the linguistic brilliance displayed in Albrecht 1996–1997 to the knotty territory of the conversation books which, given their function as incomplete records of conversation, pose more of a challenge to the editor and reader to make sense of them. This is achieved by both a breezy, accessible translation into “modern conversational American English,” as well as with helpful annotations that identify interlocutors and give the best guess as to where the conversation took place. Ten more volumes are planned in the series.

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  • Anderson, Emily, trans. and ed. The Letters of Beethoven. 3 vols. London: Macmillan, 1961.

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    With 1,652 items, the most complete English edition of Beethoven’s letters, which is nonetheless unfortunately marred by often highly unreliable translations into laughably stiff Victorian English, intended to be “timeless English prose.” Readers with no German are cautioned to seek out alternate interpretations when available.

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  • Brandenburg, Sieghard, ed. Ludwig van Beethoven: Briefwechsel Gesamtausgabe. 8 vols. Munich: Henle, 1997–1998.

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    Seven volumes of correspondence containing altogether 2,292 entries, with an eighth volume containing an index and several concordances. Each letter is followed by extensive annotations as well as a description of the original document and its location, or if this is no longer extant, the latest known authentic source and proof of its provenance. Many copies were sold with an accompanying CD-ROM containing the full text, which if available is the easiest way to search.

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  • Braubach, Max, ed. Die Stammbücher Beethovens und der Babette Koch. 2d ed. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 1995.

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    When Beethoven left Bonn for Vienna in November 1792, his closest friends presented him with an Album amicorum, filled with literary quotes, drawings, and well-wishes. Adding to the value of this document (here given in facsimile and transcription) for understanding Beethoven’s intellectual horizons is Braubach’s thorough research into this circle of friends, presented here in a glossary. The entries themselves are translated in Albrecht 1996–1997 (Vol. 1).

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  • Busch-Weise, Dagmar von. “Beethovens Jugendtagebuch.” Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 25 (1962): 62–68.

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    This brief, early diary begins with the tumultuous journey in November 1792 Beethoven took from his hometown, Bonn, to Vienna, ending in 1794, a period when he was studying composition with Haydn and Albrechstberger while attempting to establish himself as a virtuoso pianist. Entries are laconic and practical in nature. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Köhler, Karl-Heinz, Grita Herre, and Dagmar Beck, eds. Ludwig van Beethovens Konversationshefte. 11 vols. Leipzig: VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1968–2001.

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    As valuable as the conversation books are to music historians, many difficulties met the scholarly team in transcribing them, such as assigning names to the handwritings, annotating the sometimes aphoristic comments, and filtering out spurious entries by Schindler. This exhaustively annotated diplomatic edition is a laudable achievement, if not the most reader-friendly (several volumes lack indexes).

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  • Kopitz, Klaus Martin, and Rainer Cadenbach. Beethoven aus der Sicht seiner Zeitgenossen. 2 vols. Munich: Henle, 2009.

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    The most authoritative collection of descriptions and reminiscences of Beethoven by his contemporaries, which includes not only accounts published in newspapers during the composer’s life and after his death, but highly rare ones such as interview notes by early biographers A. W. Thayer and Otto Jahn. Arranged in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, but contains several handy concordances, including indexes of persons and works, and a timeline of the events which are being described.

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  • Solomon, Maynard. “Beethoven’s Tagebuch of 1812–1818.” In Beethoven Essays. Edited by Maynard Solomon, 233–295. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

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    This diary spans the years following the “Immortal Beloved” letter and ending with the legal struggle for guardianship of Beethoven’s nephew, in other words during one of the composer’s deepest personal crises. Its entries are therefore often highly reflective and anguished in nature, but alongside these are literary and philosophical quotes that show his extensive reading habits. Translated mostly accurately with an extended introduction.

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  • Wetzstein, Margot, ed. Die Familie Beethoven im kurfürstlichen Bonn: Neuauflage nach den Aufzeichnungen des Bonner Bäckermeisters Gottfried Fischer. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 2006.

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    The Fischers were neighbors and close friends of the Beethoven family in Bonn, who witnessed the young musician’s relationship with his parents and his early musical training. Due to a combination of heavy Bönnsch dialect and highly creative phonetic spelling, Gottfried Fischer’s memoirs would be impenetrable even for native German-speakers, were it not for the hundreds of explanatory footnotes. Copiously illustrated with maps and engravings of Electoral Bonn and local personalities.

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Biographies and Life-Work Studies

Beethoven biography is a crowded field, populated with everything from painstaking life histories by eminent scholars, exploration of the works by insightful musicians, all the way to gossipy collections of sensationalistic anecdotes. Most modern scholarly monographs handle both life and works, with varying weight given to each depending on the author’s orientation. Thayer 1964 is the most accessible edition for English-speakers of the monumental 19th-century text (by an American but originally published in German), which is a documentary biography in the purest sense, eschewing discussion of the music. Cooper 2000 and Lockwood 2003 are engaging, factually reliable accounts of life and music which are accessible to both enthusiast and student. Solomon 1998, while highly influential, should be read with caution. Kinderman 2008 is a chronological discussion of Beethoven’s key works with an emphasis on aesthetic and intellectual background, a rewarding text for advanced students and specialists. Of recent popular biographies, Swafford 2014 is the most responsible and factually reliable, but relies on shopworn character tropes. Although scholarly life-work studies are for some reason rare in German, Küster 1994 makes valuable contributions in both musical commentary and historical context. English translations of early biographies by friends and acquaintances of the composer include the largely scurrilous (but hardly disregardable) Schindler 1966 and the much more reliable Wegeler and Ries 1987.

  • Cooper, Barry. Beethoven. Master Musicians Series. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Gives roughly equal weight to biography and musical commentary. If the latter is at a level accessible to students and enthusiasts, the former is perhaps made less so by the great lengths gone to debunk popular anecdotes and other scholars’ theories. Otherwise avoids sensationalism or splashy theories and is scrupulous in weighing evidence. Contains several appendices, including a timeline and personalia list, and a well-curated bibliography.

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  • Kinderman, William. Beethoven. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Originally published in 1995. While the narrative follows the composer’s life chronologically and gives a rough outline of his high and low points, the emphasis is on the music and its intellectual background and creative genesis, offering frequent novel insights into well-known works. Some high-level aesthetic and music-philosophical discussions may leave all but the advanced student and specialist behind.

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  • Küster, Konrad. Beethoven. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1994.

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    The strongest life-works study by a modern German musicologist. In a series of chronologically ordered “snapshots” from Beethoven’s life, both the key compositions and their biographical context are examined to arrive at a better understanding of his motivations and stylistic development. While the biographical element is for this reason not comprehensive, it is based on an impressive understanding of broader historical contexts, offering uncommon insights.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven: The Music and the Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003.

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    The best choice for the student and enthusiast, with engaging prose and musical discussions that avoid advanced terminology, but which will also provide the specialist with much food for thought: Lockwood’s narrative refreshingly presents the composer’s life and work not teleologically—rather it replaces the ubiquitous “three periods” with a series of “maturities,” illuminating the changes in artistic and intellectual outlook as Beethoven aged and its effect on his music.

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  • Schindler, Anton Felix. Beethoven as I Knew Him. Edited by Donald W. MacArdle and translated by Constance S. Jolly. London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

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    Schindler was secretary and amanuensis to the composer in his later years, but his account has been widely criticized as self-serving and inaccurate. Still, when read with due caution and awareness of Schindler’s biases, contains some reminiscences not found anywhere else, which could be authentic. First German edition 1840 (Münster, Germany: Aschendorff), expanded in 1860. First English trans. by Moscheles 1841 (Boston: Oliver Ditson). Several modern reprints follow Moscheles’ inferior text, but only MacArdle’s is based on the 1860 version.

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  • Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. 2d rev. ed. New York: Schirmer Trade Books, 1998.

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    Originally published in 1977 (New York: MacMillan). A well-written and enormously influential biography that has nevertheless been criticized for its speculative Freudian analysis of the composer, and more seriously for its misleading or even incorrect translations of German primary sources in service of the more provocative theories, excesses which remain mostly unchanged in the revised edition. Offers evaluations of key works, if no detailed musical discussions.

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  • Swafford, Jan. Beethoven: Anguish & Triumph. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

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    For a popular biography, this one does its best to get the facts straight and is based on an impressive breadth of literature. Serious students should be aware that the shopworn ‘suffering hero’ trope that runs through its characterization of the composer, however compelling, is subject to much more nuanced treatment, if not revision, in scholarly literature.

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  • Thayer, Alexander Wheelock. Thayer’s Life of Beethoven. Revised and edited by Elliot Forbes. 2 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1964.

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    The first and most extensive documentary biography, the life’s work of an American librarian, journalist, and diplomat who first traveled to Europe in 1849 to consult archival sources and interview many still-living acquaintances of the composer. First three volumes published 1866–1879 as Ludwig van Beethovens Leben (Berlin: Weber), final two posthumously completed and expanded by Hermann Deiters and Hugo Riemann, published 1907–1908 (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel). Five-volume German third edition (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1917–1923) is the most comprehensive, containing much valuable material removed by Forbes.

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  • Wegeler, Franz, and Ferdinand Ries. Beethoven Remembered: The Biographical Notes of Franz Wegeler and Ferdinand Ries. Translated by Frederick Noonan. Arlington, VA: Great Ocean Publishers, 1987.

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    Originally published in 1838 and 1845 as Biographische Notizen über Ludwig van Beethoven (Coblenz: Bädeker) Both men grew up with Beethoven in Bonn and Ries was later Beethoven’s student and friend in Vienna. Has proven especially reliable, even more so as time passes, since many episodes only recounted here have since been corroborated by documentary evidence discovered much later. The endnotes to this edition are translated from an early 20th-century German edition and therefore highly outdated.

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Journals and Essay Collections

For most of the 20th and 21st centuries, there has been at any given time at least one periodical in either German or English that specializes in Beethoven topics. Their history roughly mirrors that of the discipline in general. The first of these periodicals was the Beethoven-Jahrbuch, which aside from longer wartime breaks ran from 1908 to 1983 under various names and leadership and, especially between the wars and in mid-century, reflected the dominance of German musicologists in the discipline. The 1970s marked the beginning of a surge of Anglo-American Beethoven scholarship, with an overwhelming emphasis on sketch research, one that gathered steam until the mid-to-late 2000s, especially in the three volumes of Beethoven Studies and the truly excellent peer-reviewed Beethoven Forum. The Beethoven Haus (which had edited the Beethoven-Jahrbuch in its last several decades) reentered the field in 2006 with Bonner Beethoven-Studien, this time publishing articles in both English and German by scholars from both sides of the Atlantic. A somewhat unusual space has been occupied by The Beethoven Journal (which began in 1986 under the name The Beethoven Newsletter). Catering to both scholars and enthusiasts, this publication has frequently included, alongside musicological articles accessible to this wider audience, works by scholars from other fields on Beethoven-related matters. Since 2011, yearly “New Beethoven Research” conferences have been held immediately before the annual meetings of the American Musicological Society (except for one year when it was held in Bonn); selected papers from these have been published in Kinderman 2013 and Appel, et al. 2016. Besides these, a few of the 20th century’s standout scholars have collected their articles on Beethoven in a single volume: Sandberger 1924, a late-career summation by one of the preeminent German musicologists from the early 20th century, contains several articles that still today are essential reading. Much the same can be said for Tovey 1945, by an English composer and author whose distinctively penetrating music criticism hovered around Beethoven for his entire life, but whose thoughts on the composer were only summarized (and left incomplete) toward the end of it. Solomon 2003 is an important collection of essays on Beethoven’s late works.

  • Appel, Bernhard R., Joanna Cobb Biermann, William Kinderman, and Julia Ronge, eds. Beethoven und der Wiener Kongress 1814/15: Bericht über die vierte New Beethoven Research Conference Bonn, 10. bis 12. September 2014. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 26. Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2016.

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    In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Congress of Vienna, the 2014 “New Beethoven Research” conference was held in Bonn at the Beethoven-Haus. The agenda was a critical reevaluation of the works that Beethoven wrote before, during, and after the Congress, which typically have been harshly criticized by modern scholars as insipid and uninspired. Includes essays in both German and English.

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  • Beethoven Forum. 1992–2007.

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    Published by University of Nebraska Press from 1992–1999 and by Illinois University Press from 2000–2007 in fourteen volumes, this was the destination for cutting-edge Beethoven scholarship in the 1990s and 2000s. The journal was issued 1992–2000 annually and 2002–2007 biannually, with no issue in 1998 or 2001. Alongside contributions to Sketch Studies, includes articles featuring a variety of viewpoints and methodologies, from biographical and aesthetic to music-theoretical.

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  • Beethoven-Jahrbuch. 1954–1983.

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    Two volumes were issued as Beethovenjahrbuch (1908–1909), followed by ten volumes as Neues Beethoven Jahrbuch (1924–1942), then ten further volumes as Beethoven-Jahrbuch (1953–1983).The foremost outlet for Beethoven research for most of the 20th century; contributions feature a variety of emphases, from philology and biography to stylistic history.

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  • The Beethoven Journal. 1986–.

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    Published by the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San José State University. While the first decade’s content reflected its more hobbyist title, the journal found a niche afterwards as an outlet for both scholars and enthusiasts. Contributions range from musicological articles written for a broader public (often espousing minority viewpoints) to ones written by experts in other fields on Beethoven-related topics, as well as auction reports and book and CD reviews. From 1986–1994 was known as The Beethoven Newsletter.

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  • Bonner Beethoven-Studien. 12 vols. 1999–.

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    Published by the Beethoven-Haus, appearing for the most part annually, although some years have seen no issue. Articles vary in length and scope, from brief explications of newly discovered documents to more extensive contextual or music-critical essays. Range of contributors reflects the current international makeup of Beethoven research, with essays in English and German from scholars on both sides of the Atlantic.

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  • Kinderman, Willam, ed. Special Issue: New Beethoven Research. Journal of Musicological Research 32.2–3 (2013).

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    Features selected papers from the 2011 and 2012 “New Beethoven Research” conferences, held just before the meetings of the American Musicological Society. Contributors are from diverse backgrounds, many of them early-career scholars or otherwise from outside the mainstream, representing a refreshingly broad range of scholarly interests. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Sandberger, Adolf. Ausgewählte Aufsätze zur Musikgeschichte. Vol. 2, Forschungen, Studien und Kritiken zu Beethoven und zur Beethovenliteratur. Munich: Drei Masken, 1924.

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    A collection of Sandberger’s Beethoven-related essays from the previous few decades, usually with an emphasis on text-critical methods or stylistic history. Still unmatched is his magisterial essay on the Pastoral Symphony, which traces the pastoral idea in music through many centuries before it.

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  • Solomon, Maynard. Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Solomon’s evocative essays on Beethoven’s music have been widely praised for their hermeneutic insights and vivid prose. This volume collects several that pertain to the late works—rather loosely defined, since the earliest works covered are from 1811–1812—as well as several ruminative (and less convincing) biographical pieces.

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  • Tovey, Donald Francis. Beethoven. In Internet Archive. London: Oxford University Press, 1945.

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    Left incomplete at the author’s death in 1940, this fragment represents a late attempt to summarize Tovey’s thoughts on Beethoven, whom he considered “the completest musician who ever lived” and returned to throughout his career in his attempts to explain fundamental but evanescent phenomena such as tonality and dramatic trajectory in Instrumental Music. Thought-provoking, occasionally erudite, but always eminently and enjoyably readable.

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  • Tyson, Alan, ed. Beethoven Studies. Vol. 1. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

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    (Volume 2: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977; Volume 3: Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982). The first of three volumes—a fourth is currently in production for the upcoming anniversary year—containing long-form essays by the most prominent English and American Beethoven scholars of the 1970s and 1980s, typically covering sketch studies, but including other important biographical and music-critical topics.

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Sketch Studies

Beethoven left behind a voluminous record of his compositional process, in the form of around 10,000 known pages of sketches, many which he bound into books before using them, others which remained single sheets or impromptu bundles folded together for notating ideas on the go. These difficult-to-decipher documents were of great interest to 19th-century collectors and eventually became widely scattered geographically, but pioneering researchers of the era, especially Gustav Nottebohm, attempted from an early stage to keep track of how much material there was and where it could be found, as well as which works were drafted in which sources. Particularly from the 1970s to the 1990s, sketch research became a dominant field of Beethoven scholarship, resulting in many fine monographs, articles, and dissertations, too many to list in an overview. Much of the fundamental source work in assessing the extent of the material, determining its original form, and putting it in chronological order—not an easy task, since few of the books are preserved in the same form as Beethoven used them—was accomplished in Schmidt 1969 and Johnson, et al. 1985; both are still used as standard reference works. Dorfmüller, et al. 2014 helpfully integrates sketches into the entries for individual works and refers the reader to relevant literature. Editions of entire sketchbooks have been appearing since the early 20th century; a running list of these publications is maintained at the online resource Beethoven’s Sketches: The State of Our Knowledge. Not all have a uniform standard of presentation; most contain a complete facsimile, but opinions have differed in the past as to how much editorial intervention is required for their transcription. Since sketches were not intended for anyone but the composer to see, notation of pitches and rhythm can be approximate, while accidentals and key and time signatures are infrequent to nonexistent. Today, it is generally agreed that any transcription requires some degree of interpretation: The admirable Kerman 1970 takes editorial license to an extreme, disentangling sketches from their context and reordering them. Presently, two series of sketchbook editions exist, which both contain facsimile, transcription, and varying amounts of commentary. Beethoven, Skizzen und Entwürfe has eventually settled on a two-volume format with extended introductions by the editor, whereas the Beethoven Sketchbook Series opts for a more generous three volumes, with one dedicated to essays. Cooper 1990 is the best introduction to sketch studies and overview of what sketches can tell us. Lockwood 1992 presents a series of case studies. Kinderman 1991 is a collection of essays by leading sketch experts and Kinderman 2009 summarizes the discipline’s philosophical background.

  • Beethoven Sketchbook Series. General editor William Kinderman. 3 vols. Urbana: Illinois University Press, 2003–.

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    Each entry in the series has three volumes: a full-color facsimile in original size, a transcription which follows the layout of the original with substantial editorial intervention, and essays on the significance of the material.

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  • Beethoven, Skizzen und Entwürfe. Edited by William Drabkin. 14 vols. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 1957–.

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    Originally conceived as a complete edition of sketchbooks, each generation of editors has fundamentally rethought editorial objectives—some transcriptions have appeared without facsimiles—and even how volumes are numbered within the series (which can seem randomly assigned and are better disregarded). Recent publications have coalesced around a two-volume format of full-color facsimile in original size, with edited transcription plus introductory essays.

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  • Cooper, Barry. Beethoven and the Creative Process. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990.

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    The best introduction to the potential of sketch studies for understanding Beethoven’s compositional thought processes. Explains methodology, terminology, and intractable challenges, all clearly demonstrated through illuminating, well-chosen case studies.

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  • Dorfmüller, Kurt, Norbert Gertsch, and Julia Ronge, eds. Ludwig van Beethoven: Thematisch-bibliographisches Werkverzeichnis. 2 vols. Munich: Henle, 2014.

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    Each of the thematic catalogue’s entries gives a summary of the sketches (when extant) and briefly describes their relationship to the other surviving sources, including citations to scholarly literature and/or published transcriptions. In collaboration with Gertraut Haberkamp and the Beethoven-Haus Bonn.

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  • Johnson, Douglas, Alan Tyson, and Robert Winter. The Beethoven Sketchbooks: History, Reconstruction, Inventory. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1985.

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    The standard inventory and description of the sketchbooks, with a chronology, complete information on watermarks, and a survey of each book’s contents, including a reconstruction of its original gathering structure with indications of which leaves have gone missing or are found elsewhere (collectors in the 19th century often ripped out pages and sold or gifted them). Contains summary remarks on pocket sketchbooks, the two early sketch miscellanies, and individual leaves.

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  • Kerman, Joseph, ed. Autograph miscellany from circa 1786 to 1799: British Museum Additional Manuscript 29801, ff. 39–162 (The Kafka sketchbook). 2 vols. London: The British Museum, 1970.

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    Kerman’s transcription of this early bundle of loose-leaf odds and ends from Beethoven’s Bonn and early Vienna years takes a liberal editorial approach: individual sketches, drafts, and autographs of short works are disentangled from their context on the page and presented in clean versions ordered by musical content. Given the heterogeneous nature of the miscellany, this is an understandable choice, one however not followed by modern sketchbook editions. A higher-quality scan of the manuscript can be found at the British Library’s website online.

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  • Kinderman, William, ed. Beethoven’s Compositional Process. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

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    This collection of essays by leading sketch experts contains both a brief introductory section on general principles of sketch research and its potential applications, as well as a more extended one presenting various case studies.

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  • Kinderman, William. “Beyond the Text: Genetic Criticism and Beethoven’s Creative Process.” Acta Musicologica 81 (2009): 99–122.

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    Explores the philosophical underpinnings of sketch research for reconstructing the creative genesis of a work, with a few case studies that exemplify the often complex relationship between sketches and autograph scores. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven: Studies in the Creative Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674430204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A collection of essays by one of the preeminent Beethoven scholars of the 20th and early 21st centuries, the sketches to relatively few works provide the material for a wide-ranging series of case studies with implications for biography, analysis, and performance. Most of the chapters deal with the Eroica Symphony and the Cello Sonata op. 69.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis. “Beethoven’s Sketches: The State of Our Knowledge.” In Boston University Center for Beethoven Research. Boston: Boston University, 2019.

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    A brief online overview of sketch studies with select bibliography and a running list of published facsimiles and transcriptions.

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  • Schmidt, Hans. “Verzeichnis der Skizzen Beethovens.” In Beethoven-Jahrbuch 6 (1969): 7–128.

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    The first attempt at a complete catalogue of sketches and their locations, with each source given a unique number; these “SV” numbers are frequently used in sketch literature. Schmidt’s coverage of the sketchbooks has been superseded by Johnson, et al. 1985, but for individual leaves and pocket sketchbooks this is sometimes the only reference.

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Instrumental Music

Beethoven left behind a substantial body of work in every established genre of instrumental music (and some uncommon ones), of which his Symphonies, String Quartets, and Piano Music have received the most attention. He was not uniquely prolific by the standards of his era; in fact, several of his contemporaries wrote far more in any given genre. What sets Beethoven apart from his peers is the individual characteristic profile he gave to each work and the disinclination to cover the same ground twice. Since Beethoven’s posthumous fame is tied to his achievements in instrumental music, it is especially with regard to works in these genres that literature—both scholarly and practically or popularly oriented—has been and continues to be most profuse. This creates a challenge for the student or scholar wanting to research a specific work, as many useful insights can be gleaned from dissertations or articles in difficult-to-access essay collections. Preference here is given to broader scholarly overviews that address large bodies of work, but specialized studies of individual works are cited within these, as well as in Volumes 1 and 2 of Das Beethoven: Handbuch (see section General Overviews). Also, the Digital Archives of the Beethoven-Haus Bonn (see section Reference Works and Online Resources) allows a bibliographic search by opus or WoO number.

Symphonies

The symphony was the last major instrumental genre that Beethoven attempted, completing his first in 1800. The next dozen years saw the composition of all his symphonies up to the Eighth, and another dozen separated these from the monumental Ninth, which premiered in 1824. An ever-present cornerstone of orchestral repertoires since Beethoven’s lifetime, these works have generated an intense amount of commentary of all stripes. Any bibliography must obviously be selective. The best recent overviews are Brown 2002, which considers them alongside all of Haydn’s and Mozart’s symphonies, and Lockwood 2015, which is highly approachable for students.

  • Brown, A. Peter. The Symphonic Repertoire. Vol. 2, The First Golden Age of the Viennese Symphony: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002.

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    Every Beethoven symphony receives thorough treatment in the relevant 112-page section of this large volume, which itself is part of a four-volume history of the symphony. Appropriate for his wide and inclusive historical scope is Brown’s refreshing avoidance of exaggeration or teleology. Contains extensive musical examples, formal and phraseological diagrams, as well as discussions of performance context, early Reception, and notable recordings.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis. Beethoven’s Symphonies: An Artistic Vision. New York: W. W. Norton, 2015.

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    Compellingly written and ideal as undergraduate teaching material, a chapter is devoted to each symphony, covering biographical and compositional context, the compositional process, formal overview and salient expressive features, and first performance. An introduction and epilogue explore the symphonies’ cultural significance, historically and today, and an appendix outlines all known sketches for symphonies, finished or unfinished.

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Symphony No. 3

Completed in 1804, the Third Symphony (Eroica) has been given detailed treatment in four chapters of Lockwood 1992, which focus on how the music was sketched and composed. Sipe 1998 provides important intellectual background, if exploring the music less thoroughly.

Symphonies 5 and 6

The Fifth and Sixth (Pastoral) Symphonies were premiered on the same concert in 1808 and are productively compared, as in Knapp 2000, whereas Jones 1995 and Will 2002 both treat the Pastoral at length as partaking in the traditions of, respectively, pastoral music and character symphonies.

  • Jones, David Wyn. Beethoven, Pastoral Symphony. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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    Views the symphony in light of the centuries-long pastoral tradition in music, with many hard-won insights. Also includes notes on the compositional process and first performance, as well as a full analysis emphasizing the use of pastoral topics and imagery.

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  • Knapp, Raymond. “A Tale of Two Symphonies: Converging Narratives of Divine Reconciliation in Beethoven’s Fifth and Sixth.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 53.2 (Summer 2000): 291–343.

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    Takes the fact that these two highly contrasting symphonies were premiered on the same concert in 1808 as the springboard for analyzing the works as a complementary pair with an overarching spiritual message. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Will, Richard J. The Characteristic Symphony in the Age of Haydn and Beethoven. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511481895Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Pastoral Symphony serves as locus point of this seminal study on the important trend in symphonic writing from the late 18th century of imbuing works with a more or less definite character through the use of descriptive titles or recognizable musical topics.

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Symphony No. 9

Since the Ninth Symphony, premiered in 1824, includes voices for the first time, it straddles the genres of symphony and massed public choral music during a politically charged moment in Viennese public life, a fact not missed in Buch 2003. Levy 2003 gives the most extensive analysis of the symphony’s literary pedigree and compositional history, while Cook 1993 puts more emphasis on its meaning in subsequent musical thought. Studies on the complex Reception history of the Ninth are even more numerous: Solie 2004 provides a probing summary of 19th-century reception, while Buch 2003 focuses on political appropriations of it up through the 20th.

  • Buch, Esteban. Beethoven’s Ninth: A Political History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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    Focuses on political implications of massed public choral music, from before Beethoven up to the 20th century, offering many pointed but unique judgments on the frequent tendency of the Ode to Joy’s—and, with it, the symphony’s—utopian idealism to be interpreted in an explicitly political light by movements with widely different agendas.

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  • Cook, Nicholas. Beethoven: Symphony No. 9. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511611612Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reprinted several times, this slim but engagingly written volume provides an introduction less to the work itself (although the first chapter ably summarizes the compositional history and first performance) than to the meaning of the Ninth in subsequent musical thought, or as the author puts it, the Ninth as “a trope, a focus of cultural discourse” (p. viii). Also explores Reception outside of Europe and the United States, with a fascinating section on China and Japan.

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  • Levy, David B. Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony. New York: Schirmer, 2003.

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    The best overview of the Ninth, which traverses the interpretation and literary context of Schiller’s Ode, the compositional process, the first performances, and its complex reception history.

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  • Solie, Ruth. “Beethoven as Secular Humanist: Ideology and the Ninth Symphony in Nineteenth-Century Criticism.” In Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations. By Ruth Solie, 5–43. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004.

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    A magisterial, highly detailed summary of the reception history of the Ninth in the 19th century, framed as a key work in a larger cultural discourse of how music fits into the world of ideas. Originally published 1988 (Eugene Narmour and Ruth Solie (eds.), Explorations in Music, the Arts, and Ideas. Essays in Honor of Leonard B. Meyer [Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 1988]).

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Concertos

Perhaps because they represent the less “absolute” form of Instrumental Music with orchestra than the symphony, the concertos—six for piano (including the early Bonn concerto, WoO 5), one for violin, and a triple concerto, not counting lost works and fragments—are much more seldom written about than they are played. Plantinga 1998 is a standard work that touches on every concerto as well as the smaller, fragmentary, and unfinished ones. Hein 2001 is an in-depth look at the piano concertos and Stowell 1998 is devoted to the Violin Concerto. In a more speculative vein, Jander 2009 elaborates a theory of the Fourth Piano Concerto as Orphean narrative, one which has a long, if controversial pedigree.

  • Hein, Hartmut. Beethovens Klavierkonzerte: Gattungsnorm und individuelle Konzeption. Beihefte zum Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 48. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2001.

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    Originally a dissertation, the most in-depth treatment of Beethoven’s six piano concertos (including the usually neglected WoO 5, composed in Bonn). Studies the history of the genre and especially Mozart’s influence, and tracks Beethoven’s gradual pathway to an individual approach.

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  • Jander, Owen. Beethoven’s “Orpheus” Concerto: The Fourth Piano Concerto in its Cultural Context. Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2009.

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    The notion that the second movement of the Fourth Piano Concerto represents a dialogue between Orpheus and the Furies has a long history. Jander’s project, elaborated here with erudite gusto, has been to approach this trope—applied to the entire Concerto—as a case study in extramusical meaning. By nature speculative, and certainly controversial, this study nonetheless warrants reading and should inspire thoughtful debate.

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  • Plantinga, Leon. Beethoven’s Concertos. New York: W. W. Norton, 1998.

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    Not only gives extensive analyses of each of the seven standard concertos, but also evaluates the early, imperfectly preserved concertos from the Bonn years, the piano arrangement of the Violin Concerto, and later unfinished works. In addition to standard formal analyses, addresses performance questions and editorial issues.

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  • Stowell, Robin. Beethoven: Violin Concerto. Cambridge Music Handbooks. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511605703Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An in-depth study whose range of topics—especially regarding textual concerns and cadenzas— makes it especially appropriate for violinists. Also considers the composer’s arrangement for piano and orchestra.

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Chamber Music

Beethoven’s dedication to chamber music spanned his entire career, from works for piano and strings written in his teens to the five late String Quartets, which occupied him until his final days. They were written for a variety of social, commercial, and performance contexts, each entailing a different kind of audience. Watson 2010 ably traverses all of these differences in a concise chronological overview of the chamber music as a whole, although the Bonn works and those for Harmoniemusik (wind instruments) are only treated cursorily.

  • Watson, Angus. Beethoven’s Chamber Music in Context. London: Boydell & Brewer, 2010.

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    Concise chronological overview of most of the major chamber music works, with some regrettable omissions: the considerable number of early Bonn works, single-movement pieces in variation form, and Harmoniemusik are treated only cursorily (and not very sympathetically).

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String Quartets

The fifteen string quartets contain some of Beethoven’s most erudite music, and thus have historically received the most attention, of which Kerman 1967 remains a classic work of criticism. Among newer offerings, Kinderman 2006 is a high-quality essay collection with strikingly unique perspectives, particularly on the late quartets. November 2014 offers a bold reinterpretation of the “middle period” quartets as an outgrowth of his contemporaneous engagement with theatrical music.

  • Kerman, Joseph. The Beethoven Quartets. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967.

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    A trenchant critical survey of the quartets with thrilling, evocative prose and built on a larger narrative arc of Beethoven’s developing musical voice. Many later reprints.

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  • Kinderman, William, ed. The String Quartets of Beethoven. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.

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    Originating in a conference on the quartets by an all-star cast of scholars, with some papers generously expanded. The most attention is given the middle and late quartets.

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  • November, Nancy. Beethoven’s Theatrical Quartets Opp. 59, 74, and 95. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

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    With the three op. 59 (“Razumovsky”) quartets, Beethoven initiated a bold approach to the genre. While they are often viewed as highly original exemplars of the “heroic style,” this volume locates these and the subsequent works squarely within the wider, rapidly evolving music-aesthetic scene, not just of quartets but also of theatrical music.

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Sonatas for Piano and String Instruments

The ten violin Sonatas and five cello sonatas have received somewhat less scholarly attention; Lockwood and Kroll 2004, however, is an excellent volume devoted to the former. The cello sonatas—composed at three discrete points in Beethoven’s early, middle, and late style periods— have received a late surge of interest: Brandenburg, et al. 2004 collects papers from a conference dedicated to them; Wiesenfeldt 2006 views them in an overview of 19th-century works for cello and piano; and the collaborative Moskovitz and Todd 2017 combines practical expertise with scholarly inquiry to claim their special status as “revolutionary” works for the instrument.

  • Brandenburg, Sieghard, Ingeborg Maas, and Wolfgang Osthoff, eds. Beethovens Werke für Klavier und Violoncello: Bericht über die Internationale Fachkonferenz Bonn, 18–20 Juni 1998. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 15. Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2004.

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    The result of a conference on the cello Sonatas held in Bonn, the thirteen contributions (mostly in German, but two in English) explore aspects from detailed source-critical issues and compositional technique to their place in the history of the genre.

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  • Lockwood, Lewis, and Mark Kroll, eds. The Beethoven Violin Sonatas: History, Criticism, Performance. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

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    It isn’t often that a collection of essays can both cover its topic with satisfying completeness while featuring several excellent authors whose approaches, writing styles, and range of insights vary considerably. The seven essays here, which cover every violin sonata, accomplish just that.

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  • Moskovitz, Marc D. and R. Larry Todd. Beethoven’s Cello: Five Revolutionary Sonatas and Their World. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2017.

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    A collaborative effort between a cellist and a pianist/musicologist, this book is more nuanced than the subtitle’s “Revolutionary” might suggest. Chronicles Beethoven’s changing approach to the cello, with chapters on biographical context to the sonatas interspersed with detailed analyses of the works, which extend to variations sets and arrangements. Includes chapters on the cellos and pianos Beethoven owned, as well as appendices on the musical sources and early reviews.

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  • Wiesenfeldt, Christiane. Zwischen Beethoven und Brahms: Die Violoncello-Sonate im 19. Jahrhundert. Kieler Schriften zur Musikwissenschaft 51. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2006.

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    Originally a dissertation on the burgeoning genre of the cello-piano duo in the 19th century. Part 3 (pp. 37–84), titled “Emancipation and Dialogue,” treats all five Beethoven sonatas.

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Piano Trios and Other Instrumental Combinations

The piano trios are the subject of the conference volume Bockholdt and Weber-Bockholdt 1992. But Beethoven wrote also for less-typical combinations of instruments, at least by today’s standards, and in fact the Septet op. 20 was one of his bestsellers. The three string quintets are treated in depth in Kurth 1996, while Burstein 2006 approaches the op. 4 quintet and its origins as a Bonn work that he heavily revised in Vienna. Chamber Music for winds was an important genre for entertainment purposes during Beethoven’s lifetime, and his own contributions are treated in the appropriate context in Raab 1999.

  • Bockholdt, Rudolf and Petra Weber-Bockholdt, eds. Beethovens Klaviertrios: Symposion München 1990. Munich: Henle, 1992.

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    Despite its origins in a conference, this volume offers a surprisingly comprehensive overview of Beethoven’s music for piano, violin, and cello, even single-movement works that are often left out.

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  • Burstein, L. Poundie. “Recomposition and Retransition in Beethoven’s String Quintet, op. 4.” Journal of Musicology 23.1 (2006): 62–96.

    DOI: 10.1525/jm.2006.23.1.62Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The op. 4 quintet was a pivotal work in Beethoven’s early Vienna years, during which he revised Bonn compositions with his teachers, Haydn and Albrechtsberger. This article explores the string quintet’s origins as a wind octet, later published as op. 104, and the fascinating “recomposition” that it underwent in the process. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Kurth, Sabine. Beethovens Streichquintette. Studien zur Musik 14. Munich: Fink, 1996.

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    While Beethoven finished three multimovement works for string quintet, only one was originally conceived as such. By the same author who wrote the critical report for the string quintet volume of the complete Beethoven edition, this work explores the complex source material for each work and addresses editorial issues, compositional models, and stylistic and technical development.

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  • Raab, Armin. “Beethoven und die Harmoniemusik.” In Zur Harmoniemusik und ihrer Geschichte. Schloß Engers Colloquia zur Kammermusik 2. Edited by Christoph-Hellmut Mahling, Kristina Pfarr, and Karl Böhmer, 113–124. Mainz, Germany: Villa Musica, 1999.

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    Chamber Music for winds was an important genre for entertainment purposes during Beethoven’s lifetime. Beethoven’s own works in the genre, often neglected by scholars, are viewed here within the context of this tradition. The volume in which it appears can be exceedingly difficult to find.

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Piano Music

Beethoven’s highly individual approach to the piano was remarked upon by some of the earliest witnesses to his playing, and compositions for the instrument span virtually his entire career. Widely considered the cornerstone of pianists’ repertoire, the 32 piano Sonatas with opus numbers have generated an enormous pedagogical and interpretive literature. The three early sonatas and a considerable number of variation sets and bagatelles have received far less coverage, and there is to date no overview of all of Beethoven’s piano music in English, as the much-admired Uhde 2000 has done in German.

  • Uhde, Jürgen. Beethovens Klaviermusik. 3 vols. 5th ed. Stuttgart: Phillipp Reclam, 2000.

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    Originally published in 1968. A standard handbook on Beethoven’s piano music in German-speaking countries, the interpretive discussions of each work combine formal analyses with inspired hermeneutic imagery that elucidates the expressive content. The first two volumes deal with the piano sonatas, while the third covers other solo piano music.

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Sonatas

In all, Beethoven composed thirty-five sonatas for his own instrument. The three Bonn sonatas, published in 1783, are seldom included alongside the canonic thirty-two—but when considered together, they represent a continuous account of his approach to the instrument and changes in style throughout his life, climaxing in the five late sonatas written between 1817 and 1822. Although individual sonatas and excerpts of them have provided plenty of fodder for analytic theories (see Analysis and Interpretation), most of the big overviews have been pedagogical rather than theoretical or historical in intent, with an eye toward aiding expressive interpretation and explicating formal peculiarities. Tovey 1998 and Uhde 2000 lie firmly in this tradition, whereas Rosen 2002 and Hinrichsen 2013 offer more commentary on the overarching stylistic developments across the sonatas. The estimable Stanley 1998 examines these works within the commercial and social history of the genre.

  • Hinrichsen, Hans-Joachim. Beethoven: Die Klaviersonaten. Kassel, Germany: Bärenreiter, 2013.

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    Of the recent books on the piano sonatas, this one offers the most food for thought on the sonatas as a cohesive group, while also treating each work as a unique entity. Interspersed chapters deal with larger aesthetic concerns (e.g. the poetic idea, pathos and humor, cyclical form), and an appendix gives a listing of early editions and handwritten sources.

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  • Rosen, Charles. Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.

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    Rosen’s background as a pianist informs this part performance-oriented (tempo, ornamentation, phrasing), part formal and stylistic account of the sonatas. Typically for Rosen, insightful and opinionated at the same time.

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  • Stanley, Glenn. “Genre Aesthetics and Function: Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas in Their Cultural Context.” In Beethoven Forum. Vol. 6. Edited by Glenn Stanley, 1–29. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998.

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    One of the very few studies of the sonatas that does not view their musical content hermetically, but instead explores their original commercial and social contexts and early Reception.

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  • Tovey, Donald Francis. Companion to Beethoven’s Pianoforte Sonatas (Bar-By-Bar Analysis). London: Associated Board of the Royal School of Music, 1998.

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    Originally published in 1931. As signaled in the subtitle, Tovey’s comments on each sonata proceed through them as an accumulation of interrelated moments, motives, and characterizations. Vivid prose and thought-provoking imagery make this a still-useful handbook for performers.

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Variations and Other Works for Solo Piano

Beethoven’s other music for solo piano essentially encompasses sets of variations and the brief, often aphoristic character pieces he termed “bagatelles.” Like Sonatas, variations were a constant throughout his compositional career; his earliest set, on a march by Dressler, constituted in 1782 his first-ever publication, and his magnum opus in the form, the hour-long 33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, appeared over forty years later. They range even more widely in intent than the sonatas, from commercially oriented offerings for amateur use to weighty essays that attempt novel musical and formal processes. Stanley 1994 outlines Beethoven’s different approaches to variation in the first twenty years, whereas the section on Beethoven in the magisterial Grove Music Online article on Variations offers a bird’s-eye view of the importance of this form in his compositional thinking while highlighting the differences with his forebears’ and contemporaries’ approaches. Kunze 1972 is an account of the “entirely new manner” that Beethoven believed himself to have forged in 1802–1803 with op. 34 and op. 35. Kinderman 1999 is the definitive study of the Diabelli Variations, from their genesis to their hermeneutic links with other late works. The bagatelles’ sphinxlike brevity and gnomic humor make them harder to interpret, both for pianists and analysts, and literature dedicated to them is scarce. A detailed overview of their composition history and interpretive issues can be found in Wu 1999.

  • Kinderman, William. Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999.

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    Originally published in 1987. A detailed account of the complex compositional history, the manifold techniques employed, and hermeneutic connections with other late works.

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  • Kunze, Stefan. “Die ‘wirklich gantz neue Manier’ in Beethovens Eroica-Variationen op. 35.” Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 29.2 (1972): 124–149.

    DOI: 10.2307/930067Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Despite the title, this article also includes the op. 34 variations, which Beethoven composed and sold to the publisher alongside op. 35 as a complementary pair. Analyzes the compositional context, stylistic novelties, and formal peculiarities of both works, confirming the composer’s judgment of them as being handled in a “entirely new manner.” Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Sisman, Elaine. “Variations.” In Grove Music Online. New York: Oxford University Press.

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    As part of an encyclopedia article on the variation form, the section on Beethoven contrasts his approach with that of his contemporaries and forebears, chronicles the importance of the form throughout his career, and evaluates how his thinking changed over time.

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  • Stanley, Glenn. “The ‘wirklich gantz neue Manier’ and the Path to It: Beethoven’s Variations for Piano, 1783–1802.” Journals and Essay Collections (1994).

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    Surveys the first two decades of Beethoven’s involvement with variations, from easy variations intended for an amateur market, to virtuosic showpieces for his own use, and finishing with the weighty opp. 34 and 35, which the composer promoted to his publisher in 1802 as written in an “entirely new manner.”

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  • Wu, Kuei-Mei. Die Bagatellen Ludwig van Beethovens. Cologne, Germany: Dohr, 1999.

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    Originally a dissertation, the first full-length survey of the brief, often-aphoristic bagatelles, addressing their composition and publication history, as well as the question of cyclical thinking in the larger published collections of bagatelles.

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Vocal and Dramatic Music

Aside from the ubiquitous Ninth Symphony, and perhaps Fidelio, Beethoven’s music with voices and for the stage is much less often studied than his Instrumental Music. Partly, this has to do with the idiosyncratic qualities of his vocal writing and his choice of texts, both of which were less influential on later generations of composers: with libretti and poems, he was famously picky, but was seldom comfortable setting first-rate poetry. Yet these were genres that occupied him constantly throughout his life and constitute a far greater proportion of his body of work than is often assumed, and his choosiness with vocal texts underlies a coherent philosophical project that rewards closer examination. The best, and sometimes only, literature on these works is quite new, and certainly much more will follow in the future.

Opera

While Beethoven contemplated many operatic plots and libretti during his career, he finished only one, Fidelio, which premiered in 1805 and underwent two extensive revisions before arriving at the version best known today, which was performed to great acclaim in 1814–1815. (Although the two earlier versions are customarily referred to as Leonore, which was in fact Beethoven’s preferred title for the opera, all three versions were originally billed under the title Fidelio.) Though making ubiquitous appearances in biographies, his lone finished opera has received less in-depth study than one might expect given its robust performance history. However, an excellent introduction to the work, from its libretto and musical models to the difference between its versions and its long Reception, exists in Robinson 1996. More depths of the prison scene’s antecedents are expertly plumbed in Lühning 1989. Two recent studies look at other fascinating historical contexts: Nedbal 2012 interprets Fidelio’s high seriousness in light of a grander contemporary project in German-speaking theater to establish the stage as an aspect of moral education, and Pearson 2014 takes at face value the opera’s subtitle, “l’amour conjugale,” as the starting point for an exploration of the changing contemporary cultural attitudes about marriage. Of other operatic attempts, the most extensively worked out was Vestas Feuer, to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, which occupied the composer for a few months in 1803. Lockwood 2008 underlines the significance for this attempt as a precursor to Leonore/Fidelio.

  • Lockwood, Lewis. “Vestas Feuer: Beethoven on the Path to Leonore.” In Variations on the Canon: Essays on Music from Bach to Boulez in Honor of Charles Rosen on His Eightieth Birthday. Edited by Robert Curry, David Gable, and Robert L. Marshall, 78–99. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2008.

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    Alongside an analysis of the sketches to Beethoven’s most thoroughly worked out unfinished opera, discusses it in light of the composer’s development and goals as an operatic composer. Includes a summary of the libretto (by Emanuel Schikaneder of Die Zauberflöte fame).

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  • Lühning, Helga. “Florestans Kerker im Rampenlicht. Zur Tradition des Sotteraneo.” In Beethoven: Zwischen Revolution und Restauration. Edited by Helga Lühning and Sieghard Brandenburg, 137–204. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 1989.

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    Lays out the long history of dungeon scenes in opera, including a few Beethoven was aware of, discussing musical symbolism and typical scenic components, with many musical examples and images of set designs.

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  • Nedbal, Martin. “How Moral is Fidelio? Didacticism in the Finales of Beethoven’s Leonore Operas.” In Musical Quarterly 95.2–3 (Summer–Fall 2012): 396–449.

    DOI: 10.1093/musqtl/gds025Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the opera’s finale in all three versions (but without privileging any of the three), locating the universalizing sentiments of the final version within the history of German-speaking theater’s didactic approach to the stage as a space for moral education, typically delivered through edifying maxims in the finales. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Pearson, Robert D. “Harmony of Hearts: Marital Love in Beethoven’s Leonore of 1806.” 19th-Century Music 38.2 (Fall 2014): 145–168.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncm.2014.38.2.145Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Often overlooked by scholars, the subtitle of Leonore/Fidelio was “l’amour conjugale,” meant as a reference to the protagonist’s extraordinary lengths to rescue her husband. This article views the second version of the opera against the backdrop of quickly changing contemporary cultural attitudes about marriage, offering a unique interpretation of the work’s philosophical themes. Available online.

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  • Robinson, Paul, ed. Ludwig van Beethoven: Fidelio. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    A valuable introduction to Fidelio by a group of top scholars, with detailed plot descriptions of all three versions, the theatrical context (including a critical examination of the often-abused “rescue opera” label), its relationship with direct models, extensive dramaturgical and musical discussion, and a general performance history.

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Ballets and Incidental Music

Beethoven composed two ballets, the so-called Ritterballett of 1791 and the Creatures of Prometheus of 1801, as well as a great deal of incidental music for the stage during a brief period between 1809 and 1813. Aside from the overtures he wrote for Goethe’s Egmont and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, this body of theatrical music has received scant scholarly attention and is even less often performed or recorded in full. The reasons for this are first and foremost practical: the plots to both ballets are only known in broad outline, preventing a full evaluation, and aside from Egmont and Coriolanus, the plays themselves inspire little modern interest. Yet except for the Ritterballett, all were published in full score during his lifetime, even assigned opus numbers. Voss 2014 gives a broad outline of this repertoire and remarks on their music and dramaturgical context, as well as their early Reception.

  • Voss, Egon. “Schauspielmusiken und Ballette.” In Beethoven-Handbuch. Vol. 4, Vokalmusik und Bühnenwerke. Edited by Birgit Lodes and Armin Raab, 99–116. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 2014.

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    An overview of Beethoven’s incidental music and ballets (which Voss argues are not in the strictest sense ballets), with remarks on their background, music, dramaturgical context, and their early reception.

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Sacred Music

The fact that Beethoven completed only two masses during his lifetime by no means signifies a merely fleeting interest in sacred music. His earliest musical experiences having been spent in a court chapel with a rich repertoire of masses and other sacred music, unrealized projects were always in the back of his mind, as Ronge 2015 demonstrates, and only lacked concrete occasions to be brought to fruition. His first completed mass, the Mass in C of 1807, can be heard as an individual response to the 18th-century mass tradition, a background which McGrann 1991 explores in depth. His monumental Missa Solemnis (1819–1823) ranks alongside the Ninth Symphony as his most ambitious late work, but its peculiar approach to the liturgical text and outsized proportions have raised more consternation than comprehension among critics and scholars. Drabkin 1991 offers a perceptive guide to the whole work and its origins, as well as some preliminary outlines for analysis and a section-by-section overview, while Lodes 1997 demonstrates how many critical, analytical, and historical perspectives can be fruitfully brought to bear on a single mass movement. Kirkendale 1970 invokes the Austrian critical apparatus of music-rhetorical analysis to emphasize the work’s links with the greater mass tradition.

  • Drabkin, William. Beethoven: Missa Solemnis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511611629Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A concise introduction to Beethoven’s largest-scale late work and, while not giving an exhaustive analysis, offers what Drabkin calls a “blueprint for investigation”—with some brief chapters on possible interpretive approaches, and a section-by-section summary of the music.

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  • Kirkendale, Warren. “New Roads to Old Ideas in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis.” Musical Quarterly 56.4 (1970): 666–701.

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    Analyzes the Missa Solemnis from the standpoint of time-honored music-rhetorical figures that were frequently used in Austrian masses, as a means of explicating some of its musical symbolism. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Lodes, Birgit. Das Gloria in Beethovens Missa Solemnis. Tutzing, Germany: Schneider, 1997.

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    As a response to the mass’s daunting multidimensionality, this expansive study approaches the Gloria movement from every conceivable angle, including traditional analysis, sketch study, genre history, theology, hermeneutics, text setting, and explication of contrasts. An English article covering aspects of this study appeared in Beethoven Forum 6 (1998), 143–179.

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  • McGrann, Jeremiah Walker R. “Beethoven’s Mass in C, Opus 86: Genesis and Compositional Background.” PhD diss., Harvard University, 1991.

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    A valuable in-depth study of Beethoven’s “other” mass, which arguably partakes more clearly in the language and traditions of the 18th-century concerted mass, while remaining an individual response to these. Beethoven’s knowledge of this tradition is reconstructed, and the mass’s compositional process as well as the work are analyzed in detail.

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  • Ronge, Julia. “Beethovens kirchenmusikalische Ambitionen: Pläne, Ideen und Fragmente.” Kirchenmusikalisches Jahrbuch 99 (2015): 59–79.

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    An enumeration of every plan or idea Beethoven ever set down to compose liturgical music, from the Bonn years until after the Missa Solemnis, accompanied by sharp insights about his motivations for composing them—and why they went unrealized. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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Cantatas and Oratorios

All but one of Beethoven’s four cantatas were written to commemorate momentous political events, and for this reason have been largely ignored or marginalized by scholars. (Recent scholarship focusing on his politically oriented music does, however, address them—see especially Cook 2003 and Mathew 2013 in Intellectual, Social, and Political Contexts.) This is regrettable in that Beethoven’s infrequent engagement with these genres provides an unexpected window into both his inner and outer worlds. Cooper 1995 looks at the poignant background of Beethoven’s only oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, within the 1802 deafness crisis during which he wrote the Heiligenstädter Testament. Wilson 2016 analyzes the communicative strategies in his most overtly political work, the cantata The Glorious Moment, written at the height of his fame during the 1814–1815 Congress of Vienna, which shows great efforts by the composer to speak to the wider audiences his music was suddenly attracting. Finally, the peculiar Goethe setting, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage from 1815, as explored in Lodes 2016, has the composer grappling with musical representation of the infinite, inviting parallels with the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony.

  • Cooper, Barry. “Beethoven’s Oratorio and the Heiligenstädter Testament.” Beethoven Journal 10 (1995): 19–24.

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    Compares the startling linguistic parallels between the libretto of Christ on the Mount of Olives, written by Franz Xaver Huber in close collaboration with the composer, and the anguished letter Beethoven wrote during the deafness crisis of October 1802, suggesting an intense personal identification with the suffering of Jesus Christ.

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  • Lodes, Birgit. “‘In der ungeheuern Weite.’ Beethoven und die Ahnung des Göttlichen in Meeres Stille und Glückliche Fahrt, Missa Solemnis und Neunter Symphonie.” In Beethoven und der Wiener Kongress (1814/15): Bericht über die vierte New Beethoven Research Conference Bonn, 10. bis 12. September 2014. Schriften zu Beethoven-Forschung 26. Edited by Bernhard R. Appel, Joanna Cobb Biermann, William Kinderman, and Julia Ronge, 139–164. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 2016.

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    Analyzes principally the cantata Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, a brief but ambitious two-movement Goethe setting from 1815, and points out how the first movement’s unusual sonic palette show the composer’s attempts to portray the terrifying sublime of infinite space, a concern he would later revisit in the more famous Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony.

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  • Wilson, John D. “Beethoven’s Popular Style: Der glorreiche Augenblick and the Art of Writing for the Galleries.” In Beethoven und der Wiener Kongress (1814/15): Bericht über die vierte New Beethoven Research Conference Bonn, 10. bis 12. September 2014. Schriften zu Beethoven-Forschung 26. Edited by Bernhard R. Appel, Joanna Cobb Biermann, William Kinderman, and Julia Ronge, 219–288. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 2016.

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    In-depth discussion and analysis of the thirty-five-minute cantata The Glorious Moment (1814), seldom performed and typically either ignored or dismissed by scholars. Argues that the style Beethoven adopted in this and other works written for the Congress of Vienna was not a matter of cynical pandering to the authorities, but a genuine attempt to develop communicative strategies to reach the larger audiences his music suddenly attracted, with implications for later choral works.

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Lieder

Beethoven is usually credited with writing the first song cycle, An die ferne Geliebte of 1816, but this justifiably celebrated work was preceded by over thirty years of near-constant output in the genre of piano-accompanied art-song. These range from brief strophic settings that could be easily sung and played in the home to much more serious professional fare, but a coherent moralistic and philosophical thread runs through the texts Beethoven chose to set (and, increasingly, that were written expressly for or sent to him to set), making the entire body of lieder worth close examination. The first, and still most penetrating study of his approach to the lied is Boettcher 1928, which rewards careful reading but is still not comprehensive. Reid 2007 is a valuable guide to every song, including general remarks on the musical settings and a complete idiomatic translation of every text. Ellison 2014 systematically analyzes the choice of keys in all of the Lieder (and several other works) to show their adherence to the doctrine of key characteristics. Unsurprisingly, An die ferne Geliebte has received the most scholarly attention; perhaps the most multifaceted, elegantly written contribution to this corner of the literature is Kerman 1973, which combines a close reading of the text and a close hearing of the music with analysis of the sketches. Although it has often been assumed that the “Geliebte” of the title is a reference to Beethoven’s own “Unsterbliche Geliebte” (Immortal Beloved), the recipient of the famous 1812 Teplitz letter, Lodes 2015 argues for an entirely different interpretation by investigating the tragic circumstances behind the work’s dedication to Prince Lobkowitz. Of Beethoven’s earlier songs, some of the more profound are the six settings of op. 48, taken from Christian Gellert’s Sacred Odes and Songs; these, too, seem to fall into a loose cycle, as demonstrated in Cobb Biermann 2004.

  • Boettcher, Hans. Beethoven als Liederkomponist. Augsburg, Germany: Benno Filsner, 1928.

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    A rewarding study of Beethoven’s individual approach to lied composition, including his musical influences, his choice of texts, handling of poetic meter, and aspects of musical representation. More a thorough exposition on technique than a survey, and thus includes discussion of many, but not all, of the songs.

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  • Cobb Biermann, Joanna. “Cyclical Ordering in Beethoven’s Gellert Lieder, Op. 48: A New Source” Journals and Essay Collections (2004).

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    Argues for the Gellert Lieder as a covert, loosely organized cycle, but one whose order has been corrupted in several early sources.

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  • Ellison, Paul. The Key to Beethoven: Connecting Tonality and Meaning in his Music. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press, 2014.

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    Did Beethoven invest meaning in his choice of keys? This study addresses the question by systematically searching for correlations between the keys he chose for lied texts and the traditional meanings attributed to those keys by theorists. Does the same with other works.

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  • Kerman, Joseph. “An die ferne Geliebte.” In Beethoven Studies 1. Edited by Alan Tyson, 123–157. New York: W. W. Norton, 1973.

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    An essential essay on Beethoven’s song cycle, combining a close reading of the text and a close hearing of the music with analysis of the sketches.

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  • Lodes, Birgit. “Zur musikalischen Passgenauigkeit von Beethovens Kompositionen mit Widmungen an Adelige: An die ferne Geliebte op. 98 in neuer Deutung.” In Widmungen bei Haydn und Beethoven: Personen—Strategien—Praktiken: Bericht über den Internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress Bonn, 29. September bis 1. Oktober 2011. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 25. Edited by Bernhard R. Appel and Armin Raab, 171–202. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 2015.

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    This exploration of how knowledge of Beethoven’s aristocratic dedicatees can shed light on the work dedicated, in many of the same ways that a gift reflects upon the recipient, finds a provocative case study in An die ferne Geliebte, which Lodes argues was inspired by the tragic and sudden death of the dedicatee Prince Lobkowitz’s wife.

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  • Reid, Paul. The Beethoven Song Companion. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2007.

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    A useful guide to every lied, with complete idiomatic translations of each text, as well as general remarks on the compositional history and musical interpretation.

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Folksong Arrangements

Beethoven composed more arrangements of folksongs for voice and piano (plus optional violin and cello) than any other type of work. In all, there are 179 settings of songs, mostly from the British Isles but also some from the Continent, that he delivered to George Thomson (who commissioned settings from many other composers as well, including Haydn, Pleyel, and Weber) between 1810 and 1820. While they once languished in obscurity, there are now two good overviews: Cooper 1994 is more historical and source-critical in approach, whereas Weber-Bockholdt 1994 engages with the British settings in close analyses. But these works’ often exotic musical peculiarities have only begun to be explored; Biamonte 2006 examines the settings that are clearly modal in orientation.

  • Biamonte, Nicole. “Modality in Beethoven’s Folk-song Settings.” Journals and Essay Collections (2006).

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    Analyzes the explicitly modal folksong settings, which make up a far smaller proportion than modal tunes do in British and Scottish traditions, shedding light on the tension between the originally monodic melodies and major-minor tonality, and the fascinating ways that Beethoven navigated it.

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  • Cooper, Barry. Beethoven’s Folksong Settings: Chronology, Sources, Style. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

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    Although some observations on formal and motivic processes are offered, is concerned chiefly with source-critical and chronological questions, which manage to date most settings with remarkable precision. Also highlights the biographical and compositional angle of Beethoven’s lively correspondence with Thomson, which offers uniquely revealing glimpses of his musical thought when dealing with often challenging melodies he did not write.

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  • Weber-Bockholdt, Petra. Beethovens Bearbeitungen britischer Lieder. Munich: Fink, 1994.

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    A highly detailed music-analytical study of the settings of folksongs from the British Isles (which constitute 150 of the 179 settings), which also outlines the cultural background of the folksongs themselves.

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Analysis and Interpretation

It can be claimed without hyperbole that contemporary musical analysis and interpretation in the mid-19th century began with the first systematic attempts to analyze Beethoven’s music. Ever since, it seems de rigueur that any new analytic approach to music of this era must prove its mettle by featuring his (instrumental) music prominently. Any bibliography must be extremely selective (but see the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Music article “Analysis” by David Damschroder for several other relevant works). The titles here are meant to represent a cross section of the wide range of possible approaches, from the most arcanely philosophical (Dahlhaus 1991) to the patiently pedagogical (Ratner 1980 and Hepokoski and Darcy 2006). Schenker 1997 centers around a translation of the Austrian theorist’s seminal 1930 essay on the Eroica symphony, representing mature Schenkerian analysis at its headiest, with all its forbidding graphs and acerbic commentary. Theodor Adorno’s highly influential philosophy featured Beethoven prominently; the provocative fragments of his unfinished monograph have been collected, ordered, and translated in Adorno 1998. Caplin 1998 is a reboot of Arnold Schoenberg’s (and his student Erwin Ratz’s) theories of form and can thus be seen as a constructive antithesis to Schenkerian analysis. Rosen 1997 and Ratner 1980 are both, in opposite but complimentary ways, concerned with analyzing style: the former by probing with critical gusto the canonic works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, and the latter through a close reading of 18th-century treatises that illuminate the nexus between style and expression. Hatten 1994 is regarded as a classic in musical signification circles, which developed a semiotic theory of musical meaning. Hepokoski and Darcy 2006 brings a nuanced historical awareness of form and expression to arrive at a new theory and taxonomy of sonata form. Riethmüller, et al. 1994 simultaneously functions as a useful reference for analytic thought on each of Beethoven’s works, with an open-minded editorial philosophy that invites many types of interpretation. This principle is taken even further in Bergé, et al. 2010, which takes a single work, the “Tempest” Sonata op. 31/2, as the impetus for eleven widely different analyses by prominent exponents of their respective methodologies.

  • Adorno, Theodor W. Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music. Edited by Rold Tiedmann and translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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    Adorno never finished a planned monograph that would have summed up his thoughts on Beethoven, whose music featured prominently in the influential philosopher’s views, but his fragmentary thoughts and texts on the project have been collected here and arranged in a coherent thematic order.

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  • Bergé, Pieter, William Caplin, and Jeroen D’Hoe, eds. Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata: Perspectives of Analysis and Performance. Analysis in Context 2. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2010.

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    The Piano Sonata op. 31/2 in D minor, popularly known as the “Tempest,” serves as the starting point for eleven analyses, each by a prominent exponent of a particular analytic or interpretive methodology, from traditional harmonic analysis and Formenlehre to semiotics and hermeneutics. Meant to be accessible to performers and students, but mileage may vary.

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  • Caplin, William. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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    A modern English reboot of Formenlehre as practiced by Arnold Schoenberg and his pupil Erwin Ratz (still influential in Austrian theory pedagogy today), who both conceived musical form as experienced from the ground up, at the level of the phrase, as opposed to the top-down reductions being practiced by their contemporary Heinrich Schenker. Features copious musical examples and a wide taxonomy.

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  • Dahlhaus, Carl. Ludwig van Beethoven: Approaches to his Music. Translated by Mary Whittall. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

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    Translation of the 1987 Ludwig van Beethoven und seine Zeit (Laaber, Germany: Laaber) Dahlhaus’s dialectical interpretive method is as hard to summarize as his gnomic prose is occasionally hard to parse, and the reader has probably not been found who agrees with, or even understands, all of it. Still, the probing concern for not only comprehending Beethoven’s aesthetic, but dissecting the foundations of perception by which comprehension is possible, make his only Beethoven monograph a heavy but thought-provoking read.

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  • Hatten, Robert. Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

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    Hatten’s highly influential first monograph, which develops a disciplined approach to analyzing musical meaning through semiotics and particularly musical topic theory (see Ratner 1980), draws its material largely from Beethoven’s late-period Instrumental Music. The three concepts in the subtitle, as methodically redefined in the book, attempt to theorize the listener’s experience of drawing connections between salient events in a self-contained musical work.

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  • Hepokoski, James A. and Warren Darcy. Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195146400.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A refreshing modern synthesis of traditional sonata-form theory with a nuanced awareness of how 18th- and early-19th-century musicians conceived of form and the expressive effect of its various manifestations. While the explanations draw from a broader corpus of composers and contemporary theorists, the music of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven dominates the choice of examples.

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  • Ratner, Leonard. Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style. New York: Schirmer Books, 1980.

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    A foundational work in musical topic theory—a discipline that ties musical gestures to larger cultural ideas—Ratner lays out in lucid prose the many ways that listeners in the late 18th century experienced music’s rhetorical and expressive dimension, grounded in contemporary theoretical treatises.

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  • Riethmüller, Albrecht, Carl Dahlhaus, and Alexander L. Ringer, ed. Beethoven. Interpretationen seiner Werke. 2 vols. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 1994.

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    Contains interpretive and analytic essays on all of Beethoven’s works, ordered by opus/WoO number, by authors practicing a variety of different approaches, but whose essays typically also try to summarize previous critical judgments on the works, which makes it a productive starting point for research.

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  • Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. 2d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.

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    Originally published in 1971. Rosen’s signature trenchant criticism is applied to the three canonical composers of Viennese classicism in an effort to define the style during the era in which they lived.

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  • Schenker, Heinrich. The Masterwork in Music. Volume 3, 1930. Edited by William Drabkin and translated by William Bent. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

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    Beethoven’s music was of central importance to Schenker, perhaps the most influential music analyst of the first half of the 20th century. This volume features Schenker’s longest and arguably most famous analysis, “Beethoven’s Third Symphony: Its True Content Described for the First Time.” Ably translated from the German, with a glossary explaining Schenker’s idiosyncratic terminology.

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Reception

The reception of Beethoven’s music is so immense and multilayered as to defy easy summary, but it is generally agreed that many of the aesthetic and institutional conditions for the sway it held over 19th-century musical thought were already either in place or being created during his lifetime. But with the passing of the human being who wrote it, the veneration of Beethoven’s music took on new dimensions after his death, which favored a particular type of composition written in what has come to be known as the “heroic style.” More recently, scholars have turned their attention to the appropriation (and misappropriation) of Beethoven’s music for political causes, and most intriguingly, to the divergent meanings it has held for cultures around the world.

Critical Reception by Beethoven’s Contemporaries

Bonds 2006 examines the sea change in musical listening that occurred around 1800, epitomized in critics such as E.T.A. Hoffmann, who demanded close, imaginative attention paid to music and privileged works that required multiple hearings to comprehend. Hoffmann’s views, however, represented the minority in a lively critical discourse, one which is ably summarized in Wallace 1990. But if not all critics during Beethoven’s lifetime were as sympathetic as Hoffmann, neither were they uniformly uncomprehending or disapproving. The modern reader can gain many insights simply by reading the diversity of critical responses during his lifetime, which are available in German (Kunze 1987) and in English translation (Senner and Wallace 1999–2001).

  • Bonds, Mark Evan. Music as Thought: Listening to the Symphony in the Age of Beethoven. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.

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    Explores the philosophical and aesthetic underpinnings of the change in listening habits that occurred around 1800, as critics such as E.T.A. Hoffmann demanded more imaginative engagement on the part of the listener when listening to complex instrumental works, and which finally elevated the Symphonies of Beethoven as exemplifying these qualities.

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  • Kunze, Stephan, ed. Ludwig van Beethoven: Die Werke im Spiegel seiner Zeit: Gesammelte Konzertberichte und Rezensionen bis 1830. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 1987.

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    Reprints the original German texts of the earliest contemporary reviews until 1830. Organized by opus/WoO number.

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  • Senner, Wayne M. and Robin Wallace, eds. The Critical Reception of Beethoven’s Compositions by his German Contemporaries. Vols. 1–2. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999–2001.

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    (Volume 3–4: Boston University Center for Beethoven Research, 2017–2018). Contains annotated English translations of the earliest contemporary reviews. Organized by opus/WoO number. Available online.

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  • Wallace, Robin. Beethoven’s Critics: Aesthetic Dilemmas and Resolutions During the Composer’s Lifetime. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    Provides a useful framework for understanding the diverse critical reactions to Beethoven’s music in the context of the varied aesthetic orientations of the journals that released these, as well as the change in the composer’s status over time.

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Posthumous and International Reception

Burnham 1995 thrillingly dissects the trope of the “heroic style” by examining critical responses to the first movement of the Eroica Symphony, a line of criticism inaugurated by Schmitz 1927 in a landmark study of composer reception, whose probing observations still largely hold true today. Comini 1987 explores how iconography has bolstered and further shaped the “suffering hero” image. Given the gendered connotations to such manifestations of heroism, a strong association of Beethoven’s music with ideals of masculinity developed over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries, often to the detriment of composers—like Schubert—whose music did not follow the same path (see McClary 1994), and even at times resulting in barriers to performance of his music by female musicians (see Ellis 1997). While this aspect of Beethoven reception has yet to be exhaustively explored from a feminist perspective—aside from a highly publicized disciplinary skirmish in the early 1990s that ultimately brought more heat than light—a few key texts have outlined the scope of the problem. The role of gendered expectations in Beethoven’s centrality to the musical canon is thoughtfully discussed in Citron 1993, and the context and consequences of “masculine” and “feminine” constructions in his music are dissected in Bartsch, et al. 2003. Beethoven’s music has served as a rallying point for staggeringly diverse political and cultural movements as well. Dennis 1996 chronicles the co-opting of his music for German political causes, often with diametrically opposed agendas, whereas Broyles 2011 looks at the ever-changing attitudes toward and appropriation of Beethoven’s music in the United States, a history that began surprisingly early. Recent scholars have looked at the meanings that Beethoven’s music has held for non-Western audiences, such as the significance of the Ninth Symphony in Japan (Chang 2009) or the complex politico-cultural positionings of the Chinese Communist Party (Cai and Melvin 2015). But it appears that international reception is a blossoming topic that promises to bring still further insights in the near future. A special case of influence exists in Richard Wagner, whose reception of Beethoven—and role in shaping contemporary attitudes—is the subject of Kropfinger 1991.

  • Bartsch, Cornelia, Beatrix Borchard, and Rainer Cadenbach, eds. Der “männliche” und der “weibliche” Beethoven: Bericht über den internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress vom 31. Oktober bis 4. November 2001 an der Universität der Künste Berlin. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 18. Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2003.

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    Drawn from conference papers on “masculine” and “feminine” constructions in criticism and analysis of Beethoven’s music, questioning to what degree they are grounded in biographical or historical understanding, and how such notions of gender have influenced his posthumous reception and the modern musicological discourse.

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  • Broyles, Michael. Beethoven in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011.

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    Follows the performance, reception, and appropriation of Beethoven’s music in the United States from the first concerts in the 1810s to the early 21st century, resulting in a sweeping history of US popular and high culture.

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  • Burnham, Scott. Beethoven Hero. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    A watershed study of how the Eroica symphony has been interpreted by influential critics and theorists in the 19th and 20th centuries, and especially how the narrative of a heroic journey not only attached itself to this work, but became the standard by which musical value was subsequently judged.

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  • Cai, Jindong and Sheila Melvin. Beethoven in China: How the Great Composer Became an Icon in the People's Republic. Melbourne, VIC: Penguin Books, 2015.

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    Chronicles how Beethoven’s biography and music have been interpreted in China since the early 20th century, with a special focus on changing attitudes of the Communist Party, which have reflected internal ideological struggles to a fascinating extent. But the book also examines the meanings of Beethoven’s music for the more capitalistic modern Chinese society.

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  • Chang, Eddy Y. L. “Ode to ‘Personal Challenge’: Reconsidering Japanese Groupism and the Role of Beethoven’s Ninth in Catering to Socio-Cultural Needs.” In Identity in Crossroad Civilisations: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Globalism in Asia. Edited by Erich Kolig, Vivienne S. M. Angeles, and Sam Wong, 147–172. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009.

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    Argues that the phenomenon of massed performances in Japan of Beethoven’s Ninth (known there as “daiku”), usually met with bemused skepticism by western commentators, takes on a deep significance that is based in uniquely Japanese sociocultural values. Also available online.

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  • Citron, Marcia J. Gender and the Musical Canon. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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    As the “great dead white male composer” par excellence, Beethoven’s ghost hovers in the background of these critical ruminations on the formation and enforcement of the musical canon, and the role that gendered expectations have traditionally played in them.

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  • Comini, Alessandra. The Changing Image of Beethoven: A Study in Mythmaking. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1987.

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    Fascinating history of Beethoven iconography from his lifetime to the 20th century, with pointed insights on how his posthumous image both shaped and was shaped by artistic depictions.

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  • Dennis, David. Beethoven in German Politics, 1870–1989. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.

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    Explores how Beethoven’s music has served as a rallying point for German political movements from all sides of the ideological spectrum.

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  • Ellis, Katherine. “Female Pianists and their Male Critics in Nineteenth-Century Paris.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 50.2–3 (Summer–Autumn 1997): 353–385.

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    By the 1850s, an increasing number of talented female pianists were sweeping French stages and being educated at the Paris Conservatoire, prompting a revealing debate among the (exclusively male) faculty and music critics as to what repertoire was “appropriate” for young ladies to play. Beethoven was not on the syllabus. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Kropfinger, Klaus. Wagner and Beethoven: Richard Wagner’s Reception of Beethoven. Translated by Peter Palmer. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511627262Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wagner idolized Beethoven and studied his music deeply throughout his life, but also had a hand in shaping the public’s perception of him through writings and performances. This book thoroughly explores all aspects of this reception. Original German version published in1975.

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  • McClary, Susan. “Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert’s Music.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 205–233. New York and London: Routledge, 1994.

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    By way of dissecting the controversial theory that Schubert might have been homosexual because his music “sounds” gay (one much discussed in the 1990s), McClary unpacks the underlying gendered biases that governed 19th- and 20th-century music aesthetics, and how Schubert’s compositional strategies, markedly different from those of Beethoven’s “heroic” style, became branded effeminate by comparison.

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  • Schmitz, Arnold. Das romantische Beethovenbild: Darstellung und Kritik. Berlin: Dümmler, 1927.

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    A pioneering work in the study not only of Beethoven reception, but of music reception in general. With a clearheaded rejection of hero-worship that was as refreshing as it was unique for German musicology of its day, Schmitz patiently analyzes and deconstructs the tropes in Beethoven reception (especially of the “heroic” Beethoven) that, to a large degree, have still refused to die.

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Intellectual, Social, and Political Contexts

A general weakness of Beethoven scholarship for much of its history had been a tendency to view both the man and his music in a vacuum, as a kind of lone force in music history whose work largely stands on its own. Even once the hero-worshipping tone of much Beethoven literature from the 19th and early 20th centuries gave way to a more measured source-critical turn in the 1960s, the result was still more or less a “Beethoven under the microscope” paradigm that, just as before, eschewed context to a considerable degree. Before the 1990s, the few attempts to compare his music to that of his lesser-known contemporaries, or to contextualize his career at all, were seldom greeted warmly by the mainstream of the discipline. Nevertheless, recent scholars have begun to energetically traverse the intellectual, social, and political forces that shaped Beethoven’s outlook and career, and ultimately the music he composed, a trend that has grown in sophistication in the 2010s. The essays in Lodes, et al. 2018 refocus Beethoven against the backdrop of court music, and how changes in this institution after the French Revolution impacted musician’s careers. DeNora 1995 is a sociological study of the composer’s powerful network of aristocratic patrons in Vienna and their role in crafting his image. Sisman 2000 asks how Beethoven would have understood his musical inheritance when he first moved to Vienna. Jones 2006 surveys the surprisingly inhospitable symphonic landscape in Vienna during Beethoven’s career. Ferraguto 2019 takes a single, pivotal year in Beethoven’s life and illuminates how his various relationships shaped his key works from that year. Appel and Raab 2015 examines dedications and what they can tell us about the compositions whose title page they adorn. Cook 2003 and Mathew 2013 are both concerned with Beethoven’s engagement with political and social representation, and how a detailed investigation of his politically engaged music impacts our understanding of the canonic works. Often, a fresh contextual angle can shed light on well-known works: Whiting 2018 takes the slow movement of the op. 18/1 string quartet as the launching point for a focused essay on Beethoven’s Shakespeare Reception in the context of German theatrical culture. And Bonds 2017 finds the composer in his “Serioso” String Quartet engaging with contemporary philosophical notions of irony and incomprehensibility, a lens that offers startling new ways of hearing Beethoven’s late works. As insightful as it is difficult to categorize, Wallace 2018 combines autobiography with a scrupulous chronicle of Beethoven’s deafness, and how it changed his approach to composition.

  • Appel, Bernhard, and Armin Raab, ed. Widmungen bei Haydn und Beethoven: Personen—Strategien—Praktiken. Bericht über den Internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress Bonn, 29. September bis 1. Oktober 2011. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 25. Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, 2015.

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    The result of a conference in Bonn on dedications in Haydn’s and Beethoven’s music. An abiding focus is on how knowledge of a dedicatee reflects back on the work that was dedicated.

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  • Bonds, Mark Evan. “Irony and Incomprehensibility: Beethoven’s ‘Serioso’ String Quartet in F Minor, Op. 95, and the Path to the Late Style.” In Journal of the American Musicological Society 70.2 (2017): 285–386.

    DOI: 10.1525/jams.2017.70.2.285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    By examining one of Beethoven’s knottiest creations, the op. 95 string quartet, Bonds finds a convincing interpretive angle in contemporary philosophical notions of irony and incomprehensibility as strategies that force the listener to interpret unreconcilable contrasts, with implications for understanding Beethoven’s late style. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • Cook, Nicholas. “The Other Beethoven: Heroism, the Canon, and the Works of 1813–14.” 19th-Century Music 27.1 (Summer 2003): 3–24.

    DOI: 10.1525/ncm.2003.27.1.3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An essential essay that marked a turning point in how scholars approach Beethoven’s works that, for various reasons, were excluded from the canon. Focuses principally on two works that had been marginalized for their overt political content: Wellington’s Victory and The Glorious Moment. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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  • DeNora, Tia. Beethoven and the Construction of Genius: Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792–1803. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

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    A highly controversial sociological study of Beethoven’s Viennese patrons (whose rumblings reached as far as the New York Review of Books), and how their support was an essential ingredient in establishing him as a formidable presence on the music scene. DeNora’s deep research into this network has turned out to be groundbreaking for music sociology, even if the book’s more provocative thesis, that Beethoven’s talent played little role in his fame, failed to find traction.

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  • Ferraguto, Mark. Beethoven 1806. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019.

    DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190947187.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    One of the boldest contextual studies to date, this takes a single year during Beethoven’s highly productive middle period and examines how each of its major works was influenced by a particular relationship: with Haydn, with patrons and friends, with publishers, and even with his instrument.

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  • Jones, David Wyn. The Symphony in Beethoven’s Vienna. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    A survey of the symphonic scene around Beethoven, revealing a precipitous decline in demand for symphonies and little opportunity to have them performed. Filled with intriguing case studies of his contemporaries who tried, and largely failed, to gain traction in this genre.

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  • Lodes, Birgit, Elisabeth Reisinger, and John D. Wilson, eds. Beethoven und andere Hofmusiker seiner Generation: Bericht über den internationalen musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress, Bonn, 3. bis 6. Dezember 2015. Schriften zur Beethoven-Forschung 29, Musik am Bonner kurfürstlichen Hof 1. Bonn, Germany: Beethoven-Haus, 2018.

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    A conference volume with articles in German and English about the “last generation” of musicians who could rely on a steady court position. Contributions are partially related to Bonn court music and partly to the changing role of Kapellmeister elsewhere, along with some which deal with the growth of print culture.

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  • Mathew, Nicholas. Political Beethoven. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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    Delves into the previously murky terrain of political music in Vienna between the revolution and the restoration, and how Beethoven’s typically marginalized politically oriented music fits into it.

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  • Sisman, Elaine. “‘The spirit of Mozart from Haydn’s hands’: Beethoven’s Musical Inheritance.” In The Cambridge Companion to Beethoven. Edited by Glenn Stanley, 45–63. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    Offers a snapshot of the moment that Beethoven arrived in Vienna to study with Haydn, and how he might have viewed his range of options, based on a broader lens of the city’s music culture at this historical moment.

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  • Wallace, Robin. Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226429892.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wallace’s moving autobiographical account of his late wife’s deafness is presented in counterpoint with a scrupulously nuanced, demythologizing chronicle of Beethoven’s own loss of hearing—more gradual than often assumed—and the impact it had on his composing, which became more visually and bodily oriented, but also more attuned to the importance of silence.

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  • Whiting, Steven. “Beethoven Translating Shakespeare: Dramatic Models for the Slow Movement of the String Quartet Op. 18, No. 1.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 71.3 (Autumn 2018): 795–838.

    DOI: 10.1525/jams.2018.71.3.795Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The movement in question was purportedly described by the composer as depicting the grave scene in Romeo and Juliet. Whiting takes this as a starting point for examining Beethoven’s Shakespeare Reception, in Bonn and in the early Vienna years, in the context of translations of Shakespeare that had swept German stages since his boyhood. Available online by subscription or purchase.

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