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AmazonUK £20.27 AmazonUS $69.22

 

The Treasures of Beethoven - by John Suchet
Hardcover: 64 pages (260 x 298mm)
160 colour/mono images
Hardback in slip-case
Large format 31 x 27.8 x 4 cm
Andre Deutsch
ISBN-10: 0233002162
ISBN-13: 978-0233002163
£35.00
Experience Classicsonline

 

This is a unique item both at the price and generally and will suit the Beethoven enthusiast very well indeed. Its uniqueness does not lie in its large format - that has been done before. It is to be found in the clever inclusion of facsimiles of key documents in Beethoven's life. These are inserted into an inventive variety of slots and taped envelopes all in a style seemingly consistent with the times from which the original item dates.

The author is the one-time newsreader John Suchet brother of Poirot actor David Suchet. John has written a whole series of detailed biographies of Beethoven and his work as a Beethoven authority including the Classic FM Friendly Guide to Beethoven and a multi-volume study entitled The Last Master.

The sections are arranged so that each can be read in its own fascinating right. In effect it is rather like those admirably earnest weekly partwork encyclopedias (Knowledge and Finding Out) that were so popular in the 1960s. It's extremely colourful and tasteful. Every page is busy with pictures, detailed panels and narrative. Sometimes one has to flip the envelope carrying a facsimile out of the way to read all the text.

The inserts are coloured facsimiles of the originals or certainly appear to be. For that reason, given how indistinct and faded the handwriting or printing is, it is to be applauded that Deutsch have included as the first pocket a complete transcript in booklet-form of the full text of each document in English. It is only a pity that the full text was not printed on each page on which the insert document appears.

These documents have some impact but it is very much cosmetic - fascinating but more surface lustre than substance. As for the substance Suchet's text is arranged as a series of double pages under titles such as The Age of Revolution, Childhood in Bonn, Beethoven's Women, Europe at War, Immortal Beloved and The Final Illness.

The full list of sections is: Introduction; Europe in 18th Century; Beethoven's Childhood; Meeting Mozart; Vienna, City of Music; A Musician and his Patrons; Deafness; Eroica Symphony; Pathetique Piano Sonata; Kreutzer Violin Sonata; Beethoven's Women; Moonlight Sonata; Fifth Symphony; The Opera; Pastoral Symphony; Emperor Piano Concerto; Immortal Beloved; Family Strife; The Court Case; Hammerklavier Sonata; Last Three Piano Sonatas; Missa Solemnis; Choral Symphony; Karl's Revenge; The Late Quartets; The Final Illness; A Loyal Friend; The Legacy; In Beethoven's Footsteps. There is an index to help you cut across the sections.

It's a hybrid - and rather an agreeable one - of lifetime narrative and cross-cutting themes in music and in history. Beethoven's legacy is carried forward to the present day in the works of the great conductors and this appears as one themed section. The pity is that this section does not show photographs of young new conductors of the rising or recently risen generation such as Gustavo Dudamel. The place of Beethoven's music in the firmament is self-renewing rather than having to be tied to the names of Toscanini and Bernstein. True Barenboim is also pictured but he is now of the most senior generation.

The presentation is completely and agreeably over the top with a luxury slip-case which is both pretty substantial and heavy.

This volume is intelligently complemented by a single CD slipped into the first page. The tracks are all licensed from EMI Classics and include single movements from Symphony 5 (RLPO/Mackerras), Symphony 3 (Philadelphia/Muti), Fidelio overture (Rattle), Missa Solemnis (Giulini), Moonlight sonata (Kovacevich) and Kreutzer sonata (the Menuhins, Yehudi and Jeremy). I had half been expecting the usual third league German and Slovakian names but clearly Suchet and his collaborators at Deutsch have sights set higher.

Because of the payload of documents and insert envelopes on top of high quality art paper I have my doubts about how well the standard paper binding will hold up even if protected in the slip case. After all this book is meant to be read and it does make a good and easily digestible continuous read as well as a rewarding browser. Interestingly it would also convert very aptly into a CD-ROM of DVD; I wonder if someone is already working on this.

The volume is of a piece with other issues in the same Experience the Treasures series. These include The Napoleonic Wars, 1916 - Verdun and the Somme, The Cold War Experience, The Civil War Experience (USA), Shakespeare, Monet, Rembrandt and Van Gogh. The full range and details from www.experiencethetreasures.co.uk.

Rob Barnett


 




 


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