Ludwig van Beethoven, by Joseph Schmidt-Gorg

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Ludwig van Beethoven, by Joseph Schmidt-Gorg, editor.  New York: Praeger, 1970. 275 pages. ISBN: 978-1122230261

This handsome volume originally appeared in German with a 75-disc set of Beethoven recordings by noted artists represented on the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft label, and an English edition was prepared by the editorial department of that company and published by Praeger in New York. The editors and contributors are all members of the Beethoven-Archiv in Bonn, and according to the Foreword this fact "assured the necessary uniformity of approach, even though each of the contributors expressed himself in his own way." Perhaps uniformity has been achieved, but if so, it has been at the expense of the reader, who is treated to an annoying amount of repetitious material from chapter to chapter.

Each essay deals with a different genre in Beethoven's oeuvre: concertos, string quartets and string quintet, works for piano, etc., and is obviously meant to act as commentary for the accompanying recordings. This accounts, in part, for the redundancies that occur when the same period in the composer's life is covered in each individual section. Certainly some of these duplications could have been edited out, such as the constant identification of the siglum WoO as "Werke ohne Opuszahl" within the body of the text. Then too, each plate is provided with a highly enlightening caption that often summarizes the discussion in the text. However, this procedure has cluttered the book with duplicate translations, as, for instance, occurs on page 171 in the discussion of the "Waldstein" Sonata, Op. 53.

Within sections the treatment is chronological, and the excellent assortment of fine color plates clearly realizes the editors' intentions to "create the appropriate atmosphere for each chapter." Engravings that previously appeared in black and white in Bory's splendid iconography are here reproduced in vivid color; for example, the views of the Kärntnertor Theater (p. 48, an unsigned work that was previously identified by Bory as the work of Tranquillo Mollo), and the Theater-an-der-Wien (p. 209). The quality of the color reproductions has suffered in the English edition, but this is a minor complaint.

Yet there are some curious omissions. For instance, in the essay dealing with the symphonies by Schmidt-Görg, comparatively few plates are used. The program of the first performance of the Ninth Symphony in 1824 (along with sections of the Missa Solemnis) is not cited, nor are the sketches for a Tenth Symphony (both of which appeared in Bory). Certainly these would have been interesting to view in color. One questions the selection of a plate of the title-page of the original edition of the Ninth (1826) over the previously mentioned 1824 program. And, surprisingly, some of Beethoven's closest associates are not represented in the illustrations, though they are featured in the text. To name a few: Amenda, Schindler, Wegeler, Treitschke, Waldstein, Hüttenbrenner, and von Breuning. Indeed, the editors seem to have gone slightly overboard on this score, preferring landscapes to individuals in their pursuit of atmosphere.

No pages from the conversation books have been reproduced, and the famous letter to the "Immortal Beloved" has also been left out. The latter is a rather serious exclusion, since a considerable number of plates and a generous portion of the text are devoted to biographical sketches of the many women in the composer's life. And, finally, in the excellently organized chapter on the string quartets by Norbert Stich, the "Harp" quartet (Op. 74) is not even mentioned.

The book presents a magnificent collection of contemporary criticism, with well-chosen and often highly colored passages from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung and the Wiener Zeitung. The editors have eliminated footnotes from the body of the text, relegating this information to a complete index at the end of the book. This greatly enhances the physical appearance of the volume but often proves annoying when one is searching for the precise page reference of a quotation. This reader's curiosity was piqued by an extremely interesting discussion in the essay on the concertos by Werner Czesla. It is noted that Beethoven's manuscript of the Violin Concerto contains the composer's own alterations of the solo part, reflecting his discussions of the technical aspects with the violinist Clement. Yet we have no plates to illustrate these intriguing portions of the score, but rather one of the first page with the composer's hand-written dedication to Clement. Clearly it was not possible to print every plate of interest in the discussion of a single work, but one must question the editors' choice in this particular case.

In sum, the volume was obviously tailored to meet the needs of both the general public and the scholarly community. As an iconography it is valuable for its superior color reproductions and unpublished period illustrations. As a scholarly tool, however, it has some mechanical faults that render it less than perfect for research purposes. But, even these faults can be overlooked. The work is clearly the best of the iconographic works issued for the Beethoven bicentennial celebration and closely follows the guidelines for such an iconography as set forth by Stephen Ley in the Neues Beethoven Jahrbuch for 1938 (summarized by Donald McArdle in his review of Bory in Notes XX/1 [Winter 1962-63], p. 64 f.): the plates are "limited to persons, places, and things that Beethoven himself saw or that have a direct relationship to him, showing the subject as he saw it; and within these limitations the ultimate in completeness should be sought: portraits of the composer himself and of all persons with whom he had contact, of places and buildings that he knew, of details of his daily life, of writings from his pen and from contemporary journals regarding his work and his affairs, all selected from the vast mass of available material with reference to the importance in the composer's life history . . . " It is a valuable collection and a welcome addition to the literature.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 13/11/2018

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