The New York Times looks at “Late Beethoven”, a new book by Maynard Soloman about the great composer: All Those Beethovens Whose Facets Delight.
The wide-ranging and wildly varied essays here show in the first place how fluid any notion of late (or middle, or early) Beethoven must be. Still more broadly, Mr. Solomon, with immense erudition, shows how imprecise and elusive the most pertinent historical concepts of Classicism and Romanticism are.
The easy assumption has been that with, say, the “Eroica” Symphony (1803), Beethoven the Classicist crossed a threshold into his heroic middle period and a nascent musical Romanticism. Certainly, in his late period, from about 1813 to his death in 1827, he carried Romanticism to unimagined heights and even surpassed it with intimations of modernism. …
Mr. Solomon strikes a judicious balance. “Romanticism may have given Beethoven license to represent the forbidden and the boundless,” he writes, “but his will to form — his classicism, if you like — enabled him to set boundaries on the infinite, to portray disorder in the process of its metamorphosis into order.”
Finding order amid disarray is in large part Mr. Solomon’s own task here, for he is dealing extensively with stray or fragmentary utterances in this deaf composer’s conversation books, letters and the like. As he cautiously writes in relation to Beethoven’s aesthetic beliefs, “it may be possible to find some order in this enthusiastic mélange of unelaborated ideas and, perhaps, to locate an evolutionary pattern in his conceptions of art and the artist.”