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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824 by Harvey Sachs

Book 33, The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824, I found to be rambling and - once again - I felt at the end of it that I didn't know much more about the world then I had done when I started it.

The Ninth tries to be too many things. First of all it describes the creation and first production of the Ninth symphony. This part of the book was good. I'd always imagined that the premier of seminal works like the Ninth were major events that it would be wonderful to go back in time and see how the composer really wanted it to hear. It was quite a revelation to realise that orchestras in the early Nineteenth century were far worse than they are now. Also Beethoven's main concern was the amount of money he'd make from the performance, rather than him giving the world a masterpiece.

The rest of the book is made up of rambling sections about Romanticism in music and writing (the author for some reason goes into some detail on Byron's life); then comes a blow by blow account of the Ninth (this promised to be for non-musicians, but I can assure you that. as one. it didn't make much sense); and finally a bit about what Beethoven's contemporaries made of the ninth (most of them, believe it or not, didn't leave any record!).

I award The Ninth 4 out of 10. Although the book was dull and rambling it has achieved its objective because it has got me listening to music again! It's been many months, years in fact, that I have even had music on in the background. In years gone by I always had music on in my room and, as a result, have absorbed most of the major pieces of "classical" music in my unconscious mind over the years. But for many years now I have stopped listening to music. As I write this I am (of course) listening to Beethoven and have been all afternoon - the Piano Concertos at the moment, I did the Ninth earlier (I have to say it's not my favourite work of his! But according to Harvey Sachs even a lot of professional musicians don't really "get" the Ninth so I am not alone).

The moral of this blog entry if there is one is that even poor books can change your life. Coin Collecting for Dummies wasn't a great book but I have bought my first coin this weekend! A book is like a companion for several hours of your life, it can push and prod your life in a direction you might not have gone.

And so to the next book, number 34 in this project, what will it be and where will it take me?  Bookcase 34 contains a copy of one of the most influential books of my life: The Lives of the Great Composers. I spent a few years listening to hundreds of CDs as a result of reading that book, and the broad timeline of music that it describes I have very much assimilated into my understanding of history. Funnily enough the book I eventually chose from Bookcase 34 is about events that changed the world (of Music)

I'm hoping Howard Goodall is a bit more of a populist, a musical Bill Bryson, than the last book's author Harvey Sachs, who was too academic. Apparently Howard Goodall's been on TV, which I rarely watch apart from sport, which I hope is a promising sign that he's a man of the people!

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