The Ninth. Beethoven and the world in 1824. Harvey Sachs. In the Argo Catalog.
If you read this blog regularly you will be aware that I like books on music. While I have not been educated in music and would be reluctant to call myself anything but the lowest read amateur of music appreciation as I read this book I wondered what it could possibly be adding to the discussion. Sachs sets out to give a history of Beethoven’s majestic Ninth Symphony twinned with a history of 1824 Europe, the year the Symphony was first heard.
Sachs argues that 1824 was a good year for art. He claims that this is because the artists of Europe were shaking the cobwebs off after 30 years of warfare and were finally able to enjoy enough peace and quiet to get to their work. This sounds pretty reasonable to me. Sachs seems to fall into the category of people that think great art is possible to those who have suffered, at least more so than to those who have not. I found Sachs’ coverage of 1824 to offer little more than this, not a lot of useful information and generally he was very long-winded in his attempt to describe the year.
When writing about the Ninth itself Sachs was only slightly better. His commencing discussion regarding the chaos that must have surrounded the initial playing of the symphony was interesting and well written. However, his discussion regarding the impact, the effect or influence of the piece on the composers of Beethoven’s day seemed hardly compelling at all. Reading this book did not give me the sense of just how important the Ninth has been, and I think that was a major part of Sachs goals (he says as much). I will not be a reviewer that whines about all the alternatives ways of organizing a book on a topic could have been approached and executed, I will only say that I can think of many better and more compelling ways to cover this subject.
When Sachs is at his best is the chunk of the book when he listens to the Ninth and breaks it down bar by as they go by. In this section you can appreciate his love for the piece, the power it has over him and the careful studying he has done of the piece itself. Unfortunately he cannot sustain writing like that all the way through the book, too much of it lacks passion, a fact which is obvious to the reader. Read the book if you have not read much about music, but I would recommend one of the many other biographies of Beethoven if you have the choice.