Why I read it: Free on Kindle, and I've always been a fan.
Summary: A very positive review of the life of the master.
My Thoughts: Beethoven read Shakespeare. That blows me away.
This book was written in 1905, and there is a bit of suspension of disbelief I had to deploy while reading it in the modern day (which meant I had less available for some upcoming science fiction novels, but here we are).
I have read a lot in 1905, and by that I mean that I have read entire years' worth of newspapers from that time. I keep a running column in my hometown paper called "100 Years Ago." To compile it, I read every word from every corresponding edition. And imagine, I'm so anti-news that I haven't picked up a modern newspaper for more than a decade - save for my hometown Times. I know more about the news of 1912 than I do about the news of 2012.
I also know more about the mind-set of the average 1905 American than most, what interested, titillated and spooked him. Try reading the "Thinking Machine" mysteries of Jacques Futrelle, and you'll see what I mean. Our notion of what is a basic writing motif has evolved over time, in grandiose ways. What then was a groundbreaking idea, an earth shattering notion, is now what we gloss over to get to the real story.
So, to Beethoven. I wanted to know more about the man, how he created, perhaps some words of wisdom. Fischer, though, was more intent on explaining away some of the man's troubles, which is just fine; I didn't know many of those troubles had existed in his life, like the legal guardianship of his nephew and the private and constant harrassment from the boy's mother. Much of what we have come to believe about Beethoven is in this book, his haughtiness, his short temper, his disrespect for many societal formalities, the things we now associate with "true genius." Had he never produced any works of value, would he have just been seen as an egotistical jerk? Man, how I wish Monty Python was still putting together sketches.
Three specific passages caught my attention. First, there was the notion of the Advanced Genius Theory appearing in print a hundred years ago (see the book, reviewed on this blog). "The artist lives in the future; he is always in advance of his time." It's a perfectly plausible argument, that a genius like Beethoven has raced past us and is working in another dimension.
Second, there was the notion that he continually dunked his head in cold water because it got so overheated from all the heavy use of his brain. I'd like to see this one scientifically explained. Does excess thinking cause the head to get hot? More likely it was the intensive aerobic exercise he put himself through as he created that led to overall overheating, not just the head. Imagine a world where a teacher could say to a student, "have you been working on that math problem?" and then grab his head to check the temperature to see if he was lying.
And then there was Beethoven's death. It was, of course, a dark and stormy night, at the culmination of a long, drawn-out illness allegedly generated by a cold and raw carriage ride away from a relative with whom he had just fought: "The storm was of unusual severity, covering the glacis wth snow and sleet. The situation of the building was such that it was exposed to the full fury of the tempest. No sign was given by the master that he was conscious of this commotion of the elements. With the subsidence of the storm at dusk, the watcher was startled by a flash of lightning, which illumined everything. This was succeeded by a terrific peal of thunder wich penetrated even Beethoven's ears. Startled into consciousness by the unusual event, the dying man suddenly raised his head from Huttenbrenner's embrace, threw out his right arm with the fist doubled, remained in this position a moment as if in defience, and fell back dead."
Damn, and I really wanted to get into that SciFi.