Undeterred, Lewis Lockwood writes us another book, even following the usual pattern of dividing Beethoven's life into three distinct periods. On the whole, he hasn't anything new to provide to someone reasonably already well-read on the man.
But for someone for whom this would be their first read, it helps that Lockwood chose to focus on the private life only as far as the parts have direct effect on the music. And even on the music, he has considerately chosen to not drown us with a deluge of musical scores.
On the whole a very digestible read.
Lookwood concentrates on Beethoven's compositions and on their historical and musical contexts. He does not offer a full biography of Beethoven but rather offers only sufficient broad outline of Beethoven's life to give a sense of the composer and to allow the reader to reflect upon the relationship between the life of Beethoven and his music. Lookwood himself has some interesting things to say on various views of this relationship. (pp 17-21)
Lockwood sees Mozart and Bach as Beethoven's primary musical influences. As a young composer, Beethoven both set out to learn from Mozart without becoming an imitator. His early works are greatly influence by Mozart, Lockwood argues, until Beethoven breaks away and finds his own voice in what Lockwood terms Beethoven's second maturity. As Beethoven continued to compose, his work becomes more influenced by the counterpoint of Bach. (Beethoven had played Bach's "well-tempered clavier" as a boy of twelve.) Bach's influence becomes increasingly apparent in the close-textured and fugal works of Beethoven's third maturity.
Lockwood basically organizes his book in terms of what he describes as Beethoven's first, second and third maturities of musical development. In each case, he begins with brief details of Beethoven's life, followed by a substantial overview of Beethoven's work and influences in each period, followed by a description of some of the major individual works of the period. For the period of Beethoven's first maturity, Lockwood finds the apex of Beethovens' work in the six opus 18 string quartets.
For Beethoven's first and third maturity Loockwood approaches the works chronologically. Interestingly, for the second maturity, Lockwood organizes Beethoven's work by type: the symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, string quartets, etc, to account for Beethoven's tendency during this time to work on many various compositions simultaneously.
Some of the individual works receive little discussion in Lockwood's approach, but this is more than balanced by his excellent overviews of Beethoven's varying styles. Of the early and middle maturity works, Lockwood discusses well Beethoven's third through eighth symphonies, particularly the Eroica. But he does not see Beethoven's work at this time as predominantly "heroic" in tone. Unlike some writers, Lockwood gives good attention to Beethoven's lyrical, melodic, and reflective writing during his second maturity as exemplified by the even-numbered symphonies and by works such as the violin concerto and the cello sonata in A, opus 69. Loockwood emphasies as well the lyrical aspect of Beethoven's writing in his detailed consideration of Beethoven's song-cycle "An Die Ferne Geliebte" (to the distant beloved), opus. 98 (pp.344-46)and in his discussion of Beethoven's songs. (pp 274-279).
The compositions of Beethoven's third maturity receive the most individualized and detailed attention in this book. Lookwood considers at some length the Hammerklavier piano sonata and the opus 101 piano sonata (somewhat less attention is given to the final three sonatas), the Missa Solemnis, Diabelli variations, and to each of the five final string quartets and to the great fugue. Lockwood clearly loves this difficult music and impresses its character well upon the reader. But he gives his fullest discussion to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Lookwood gives a detailed musical discussion of each of the four movements of this work, not merely its choral finale which sets Schiller's "Ode to Joy"; and he places the work well in its historical situation. He admirably rejects the attempts in some modern writers to policticize or deconstruct this great symphony.
In the Ninth, Lockwood shows, Beethoven combined two tendencies which tend to separate in some of his works: his tendency to write works to appeal to a large public on the one hand, and his tendency to write artistically elevated and striving works on the other hand. Lockwood's treatment of the Ninth is one of the highlights of his book.
Lockwood has written a basic book, but probably the best overall book that will increase the reader's understanding of Beethoven and his music. May this book lead its readers to explore and to deepen their appreciation of Beethoven's great music
Second, while Lockwood's concentration on the music is interesting and sometimes insightful, it is at times difficult to understand for those without more than a passing knowledge of music theory. Furthermore, Lockwood's analysis is uneven. Some compositions such as the Missa Solemnis, Ninth Symphony and late quartets get substantial coverage, much of it remarkably good at dismissing historical criticism that has mistakenly assigned various political, sexual and other interpretations while more or less ignoring the music itself. Unfortunately, Lockwood does not give the same attention to other major compositions--the five piano concertos and the Violin Concerto among them. This also disappointed me. Given Lockwood's thought-provoking and balanced approach to the later works, it was too bad that he gave other major works more superficial or cursory treatment.
Nonetheless, this book is worth reading. Having read numerous books about Beethoven, I have come to the conclusion that no single book could possibly do justice to this complex and fascinating man and the incredible music he produced.