Beethoven: by W.J. Turner

September 12, 2012

This is an unusual biography of Beethoven, if one could call it such, written by W.J. Turner (1889-1946), who was a prolific poet in England and had also written biographies about Mozart and Berlioz.

This volume of biography contains four books: book I, “The life and Character of Beethoven”; Book II, “The Music of Beethoven”; Book III, “Ideals and The Artist”; and Book IV, “Beethoven and The Future”. There are a table of works and index, but no bibliography. It is only in the introduction that the author stated his reference to Thayer’s work on Beethoven, quotes from Beethoven’s letters, among other references mentioned. The first edition published in 1927 had illustrations, yet this cheaper revised edition published in 1933 does not. There are a lot of quotations but they are not footnoted; only a rough indication of the sources is provided.

The vast majority of this book has its focus on Beethoven’s “Life and Character” that contains the common information that one would read in other biographies of Beethoven: his family background, his teacher Neefe, Haydn, Czerny and Salieri, his deafness and the Heiglnstadt Testament, and the famous incident in that Beethoven refused to play for the French guests and ran out from Prince Lichnowsky’s house with the manuscript of his “Appassionata” sonata under the heavy rain.There is also a lengthy investigation of Beethoven’s immortal beloved and the alleged love affair, of which the author had his very own interpretation and argument of who she was. Mainly it is the author’s narration with tremendous quotes of letters by Beethoven and his acquaintances. And there are quotes of conversation between Schindler and Beethoven in only French without translation. All these do not come with any critical interpretation.

The second part of this book is entitled the “Music of Beethoven”, yet it is all about the author’s ideology about music, comparing Beethoven’s music Shakespeare’s poems, amongst quotes of more poems as well as comments about other composers and writers. There are however a few musical examples from Beethoven’s works and the author’s discussion of them and the composer’s stylistic periods. The third and fourth parts of the books are even briefer, which are written in the style of Romantic writing and the sense of Romantic aesthetic, quoting Schopenhauer and such. One can certainly learn something about Beethoven from a new perspective, or rather, Turner’s. Like the author wrote in the introduction, this biography “contains matter that can be found in no other books on Beethoven known to me. ” One would certainly agree with this notion as this book is highly entertaining and heavily enriched with the author’s strong favor towards the composer.

Teresa Wong

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