Beethoven: Life of a Conqueror

By Emil LudwigPUTNAM
IN his latest biographical portrait, Emil Ludwig gives us a well-rounded portrait of Beethoven. He stresses the musician’s triumphs over an unhappy home life as a child, over the apathy of the musical world, and finally over the tragedy of his deafness. By comparing the composer to Napoleon, Mr. Ludwig concludes that he had the qualities of a dictator. In spite of this thesis, the biographer gives us a lifelike picture, to which excerpts from letters and recorded conversations lend authenticity. Unfortunately there are annoying confusions early in the book, apparently the result of a hasty translation.
The general reader will find little in this portrait of Beethoven too specialized for his understanding. But the author undertakes poetic interpretations of the better-known works of the composer that will be unacceptable to the musician and which will serve to foster in the layman a false way of listening to music. Until symphonic music can be heard without the crutch of mental pictures such as a procession of monks in the slow movement of the Seventh Symphony and a classic bacchanal in the final movement the listener will lose the essential message of the composer.