0
Get Alert
Please Wait... Processing your request... Please Wait.
You must sign in to sign-up for alerts.

Please confirm that your email address is correct, so you can successfully receive this alert.

1
Book Forum: Biographies   |    
Beethoven: The Music and the Life
RICHARD D. CHESSICK, M.D., Ph.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:2342-a-2343. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.12.2342-a
View Author and Article Information

By Lewis Lockwood. New York, W.W. Norton & Co., 2003, 604 pp., $39.95.

Around 1810 the violinist Felix Radicati was shown "the newly published parts of Beethoven’s Quartets Opus 59." Said Radicati, according to an anecdote,

Ha! Beethoven, as the world says, and as I believe, is music-mad—for these pieces are not music.…I said to him that he surely did not consider these works to be music? To which he replied, "Oh they are not for you, but for a later age!" (p. 312)

In my own library I have at hand five books on Beethoven (15), including Thayer’s famous classic, and there are many, many more available. The book under review here, beside being much more up-to-date, combines many of these books by integrating the biography of Beethoven with an overview of all his major works. It is superbly written, readable, and very attractive, but the reader must be warned that most of the book is taken up by musical analysis rather than biographical details. As such the book is a valuable addition to the Beethoven literature. Lewis Lockwood, Fanny Peabody Research Professor of Music at Harvard University, is a world-renowned Beethoven scholar who has written extensively on Beethoven. He writes authoritatively and convincingly.

Those like me who have played Beethoven on such instruments as the piano and viola (in his youth Beethoven played the viola, and all his life he was an outstanding concert pianist) will be especially pleased by Lockwood’s analysis of his compositions. These are not so simple as to be platitudinous but not so complicated as to require extensive musical knowledge to understand. Lockwood adds, "As a young cellist I played his cello sonatas, trios, string quartets, and symphonies," and "I still play Beethoven’s chamber music, and thinking and writing about him has become a main professional activity" (p. xvii). I am not qualified to debate the pros and cons of Lockwood’s analyses of Beethoven’s compositions, but anyone who has played any of these compositions will find the discussion of them most interesting.

The book offers a number of excellent and enjoyable illustrations of Beethoven manuscripts and other items. It also contains a classified index of Beethoven’s works by opus number as well as a general index. Lockwood has divided Beethoven’s life into four parts. These are "the early years" (1770–1792), "the first maturity" (1792–1802), "the second maturity" (1802–1812), and "the final maturity" (1813–1827). As the author writes, his book "attempts to portray Beethoven as man and artist, with a primary focus on his music but with ample attention to his life, career, and milieu" (p. xv).

Beethoven early in life suffered what Lockwood calls "two psychic injuries"—his mother’s death when he was 16 years old and his father’s chronic alcoholism and hopeless abdication of family responsibility. This left Beethoven a virtual orphan at that age and in charge of three younger siblings, two brothers and a baby sister who died shortly after the death of her mother. All his life he attempted to find the love of a woman, but his personality was so irascible and chaotic that he was really not able to find the love of anybody except those publishers who made money from his compositions. He was a sickly person whose eventual deafness put the final touch on his sense of loneliness and isolation.

At the same time we become acquainted with Beethoven’s indomitable will to triumph over all the painful external circumstances of his life. Only Beethoven could have said to one of his main patrons, Prince Karl Lichnowsky, "Prince, you are what you are through the accident of birth; what I am, I am through myself. There have been and will be thousands of princes; there is only one Beethoven" (p. 12). All this is what Lockwood calls "a granite inner strength that sustained him through all his physical and psychic troubles," and the reason seems to be that for Beethoven creative necessity dominated everything else. He lost himself in creative work and by being immersed in it enabled himself to overcome and deny the miseries of his everyday life.

The first intimations of deafness occurred when Beethoven was 27, and the deepening anxiety over this is what Lockwood calls "one of the essential facts of his early maturity." As Beethoven wrote, "I will seize Fate by the throat; it will certainly not bend and crush me completely" (p. 115). In 1818, at the age of 47, Beethoven was so deaf that he had to use conversation books, but apparently he was never completely deaf, and in spite of his illnesses and deafness it is important to remember that he maintained a vigorous schedule of work during all of these years and produced a consistent body of remarkable compositions in a variety of genres, advancing artistically to the end.

We are continuously reminded of the curious split in Beethoven’s personality. In times of the worst adversity he was able to produce the largest number of his most sublime works. At the same time he lived a life that can only be described as one of squalor, disappointment, and total chaos. The deafness "had a lasting and debilitating effect on Beethoven’s ability to deal with the world around him, most of all on his social life and performing career, and it undoubtedly had a powerful effect on the character and content of his work" (p. 122). At the same time it may have helped him as a way of protecting his inner creative forces from the intrusions of the social world around him.

Lockwood points out that it also may have given him an excuse for the "violent surliness with which he held the greater world of people, business, and money in contempt. It also gave him a way of justifying to himself his lifelong rage and alienation" (p. 122). The onset of deafness caused Beethoven to make a change in his working methods and establish better control and organization of his compositions by the use of sketchbooks. Lockwood points out the remarkable contrast between his meticulous scores and the filth and disorganization in his home. In a previous publication (6), I have discussed the importance for a creative individual to be able to wall off his or her psychopathology from the creative process, a task that Beethoven accomplished admirably, although it certainly did not make him a very pleasant person to be around. By this walling-off process, his genius was able to express itself fully without the intrusion of his psychopathology, and that is I am sure an extremely important factor in his remarkable originality and creativity.

What emerges from the book, which is NOT a psychobiography and simply chronicles the events of Beethoven’s life and presents a musicological analysis of his works, is that Beethoven was a creative genius striving more and more to reach deeper and deeper into the transcendent truths that only art can provide. His total dedication to his work resulted in a climb toward greater and greater heights of sublimity in his compositions, and his final works, especially the last quartets, are among the closest approaches to the transcendental realm ever produced by an artist.

Burk J: The Life and Works of Beethoven. New York, Modern Library, 1946
 
Cooper M: Beethoven: The Last Decade, 1817–1827. New York, Oxford University Press, 1970
 
Demarliave J: Beethoven’s Quartets. New York, Dover Publications, 1961
 
Kerman J: The Beethoven Quartets. New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1967
 
Forbes E (ed): Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, vols 1, 2. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1967
 
Chessick R: Emotional Illness and Creativity. Madison, Conn, International Universities Press, 1999
 
+

References

Burk J: The Life and Works of Beethoven. New York, Modern Library, 1946
 
Cooper M: Beethoven: The Last Decade, 1817–1827. New York, Oxford University Press, 1970
 
Demarliave J: Beethoven’s Quartets. New York, Dover Publications, 1961
 
Kerman J: The Beethoven Quartets. New York, Alfred A Knopf, 1967
 
Forbes E (ed): Thayer’s Life of Beethoven, vols 1, 2. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1967
 
Chessick R: Emotional Illness and Creativity. Madison, Conn, International Universities Press, 1999
 
+
+

CME Activity

There is currently no quiz available for this resource. Please click here to go to the CME page to find another.
Submit a Comments
Please read the other comments before you post yours. Contributors must reveal any conflict of interest.
Comments are moderated and will appear on the site at the discertion of APA editorial staff.

* = Required Field
(if multiple authors, separate names by comma)
Example: John Doe



Related Content
Books
The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment, 4th Edition > Chapter 45.  >
Topic Collections
Psychiatric News
PubMed Articles