Books in Brief

Beethoven’s Symphonies: Nine Approaches to Art and Ideas, by Martin Geck, trans. by Stewart Spencer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 197 pp., $26.00).  Beethoven wrote his nine symphonies between 1800 and 1824 at the height of the Romantic movement that overlapped the end of the Enlightenment.  In Professor Geck’s opinion, the “First Symphony marks the beginning of a new period in the history of the symphony and arguably also in the history of classical music in general”; a period whose spiritual motto was, in Geck’s formulation, “Every rational person can advance society, and a person of genius can unhinge the world.”

For the Romantics, Geck says, creative genius comes against its own limitations when “contemptible everyday reality intrudes upon it.”  Beethoven himself “goes to the very heart of this contradiction: the victories that his symphonies celebrate are hard won or else they are invoked by means of resources available only to music—especially his own.”  The composer, who resented his princely patron the Archduke Rudolph of Austria for his hereditary status, admired Promethean figures like Napoléon Bonaparte and Philip of Macedon who realized their genius through their own efforts and compelled the world to recognize it to the point of self-comparison with them.  “It’s...

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