Beethoven: The Man Revealed

Stieler, Joseph Karl: Beethoven mit der Missa solemnis Ölgemälde, 1819

By John Suchet (2012)

This “biography” is a sub-Wikipedia standard, slapdash tract that wouldn’t pass muster as an afternoon talk to Kiwanis with early onset dementia. We’ve developed a drinking game for those who choose to peruse it:

When the author says “it seems” or something “might have” been, or is “likely,” “possible,” “probable,” or words to that effect, you have a beer.

I had a beer on pages 4, 17, 26, 30, 41, 48, 50, 54, 56, 76, 83, and 100;  2 beers on pages 5, 6, 36, 47, 51, 82, and 105; 3 schooners on page 82, and 4 pots on pages 3 and 7.

When the author says “we don’t know” or “can’t be sure or certain” or something “is likely” you have a glass of wine.

I had a wine on pages 3, 8, 10, 18, 20, 27, 50, 51, 57, 69, 82, 83, 85, 101, 102, and 104; 2 glasses on pages 5, 55, 65, 76, and 84, and a full bottle of cabernet sauvignon on page 15.

When the author says “presumably,” “it seems,” something is “almost certain” “surely” or “there’s no doubt“, you have a cider.

I had a cider on pages 7, 11, 17, 18, 26, 29, 33, 40, 45, 48, 57, 59, 67, 68, 74, 78, and 86; 2 ciders on pages 5, 12, and 72; 3 on page 60.

When the author says “there is no evidence,” or something “would” / “could” be or “must” have happened, you have a whiskey.

I had a whiskey on pages 5, 22, 34, 45, 50, 52, 53, 58, 74, 77, 80, and 88; 2 shots on pages 6, 8, 9, 12, 47, and 72; 3 belts on pages 21 and 60, and bottle of Chivas Regal on page 55.

When the author says “I think,” “I believe,” or “assume” or “suspect” or “conjecture” or “one can imagine,” or “I will now indulge in speculation”, you have a champgne.

I had a champagne on pages 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, 17, 22, 40, 54, 66, 68, 69, 70, 74, 83, and 95; 2 champers on pages 18, 52, 53, 56, 73, 85, and 94; 3 slugs on pages 55, 80, and 100, a bottle of Veuve Clicquot  on page 86, and a magnum of Dom on page 47.

I can’t remember marking any more howlers, being by then somewhat under the affluence of incohol, but you perhaps get the point. If not, to get a better sense of what they call Suchet’s “conversational approach,” try this, his “account” of the meeting twixt Mozart and Beethoven:

“…in the myriad of (sic) biographies of Beethoven…(t)he encounter with Mozart barely rates more than a swift paragraph…we know virtually nothing…(b)ut I believe [it] deserves as close an examination as possible, with speculation allowed after that…[I’ll] allow myself to put a few speculative clothes on the bare bones of what we know…That is shameless fictionalising, I readily admit, bit it gives a flavour of what I believe probably happened.” (pp. 52, 53, 54).

Or what about Suchet’s “account” of the meeting between Haydn and Beethoven:

I shall now shamelessly indulge in speculation…Haydn then says, ‘Look, it is a bit late now, and I have to leave early tomorrow, but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. On my return journey I’ll make sure I come via Bonn, and I would very much ike to look at the cantatas, see the manuscripts. Would that be alright?’  I confess the conversation and that last quote are drawn from my imagination…” (pp. 68, 69).

“Tell you what I’ll do. Write up your bio on ‘Music Express.’ OK?”

I’ll tell you what I’ll do: throw this trash in the bin, or drop it off at Oxfam.  Why publish something like this? Better a novel or short story than this parody of a Hollywood biopic. Try the 30 page chapter on Ludwig in Michael Steen’s The Great Composers if you want hard facts, and save the understandable gush about a truly great composer for some soft Classic FM show.


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