Beethoven Summary


The biographer of any creative artist always faces the dilemma of how to relate life events to artistic production. An additional challenge for the biographer of a musician is how to convey in words the abstract, ephemeral character of musical sound.

A finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Biography, Lewis Lockwood faces these biographical issues by organizing his presentation into four parts based on Ludwig van Beethoven’s musical development: the early years in Bonn, first maturity, second maturity, and final maturity as a composer in Vienna. Each part is further subdivided into chronological sections where Lockwood chooses to separate discussions of Beethoven’s life from his music creating an alternation between chapters on “the life” and “the career.”

Lockwood, who is a professor of musicology at Harvard University, acknowledges that his “primary concern is with the artistic side of the equation.” His analysis of the composer’s works demonstrates Beethoven’s musical genius. Although Lockwood points out influences of other composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, he emphasizes Beethoven’s artistic originality that took Western music into a new dramatic, Romantic sphere. However, translating the technicalities of the musicological examples into a meaningful aural experience can present difficulties for a reader not intimately versed in music.

Although the author’s focus is on the music, the chapters on Beethoven’s life have greater impact. These sections discuss the physical, psychological, and spiritual obstacles that Beethoven faced, including his deafness, with considerable poignancy and sensitivity. This biography, which gives full consideration to the life and the music, shows how Beethoven’s musical creativity was the central driving force throughout his life.