Book Review: William Kinderman Beethoven

By Wendel, Thomas | The Beethoven Journal, Fall 1995 | Go to article overview

Book Review: William Kinderman Beethoven


Wendel, Thomas, The Beethoven Journal


Book Review: William Knderman Beethoven Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. 374 pp. $35.00

THE GREAT STRENGTH OF WILLIAM KINDERMAN'S BEETHOVENUES IN ITS superb analyses of many of the composer's works. The author's Beethoven 's Diabelli Variations (1987) and other more recent writings provide copious evidence of his analytical prowess. And incidentally, his recent highly acclaimed recording of the Diabelli Variations (Hyperion CDA 66763) proves his pianistic prowess as well. Professor of Music at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, William Kinderman has emerged a second Charles Rosen, likewise a performing musicologist.

"The central task of the present study," Kinderman writes, "is to trace the formation and evolution [of the principle of 'artistic unification'] through analysis of works from all periods of Beethoven's life." This principle, for which Beethoven "coined the term Kunstvereinigung" has its philosophical roots, according to the author, in the theoretical writings of Kant, Schelling, and above all, Schiller. In a complex "overture" to the book, Kinderman somewhat opaquely limns the Schillerian philosophy as the unobtainable unifying of opposites: nature and mind, freedom and restraint, imagination and reason. Their reconciliation demands individual autonomy, an autonomy "intrinsically resistant to ideology."

Taking the argument forward in time, Kinderman refers to Theodor Adorno's view of the musical work as '"a copy of a non-existent original' for, paradoxically, there is no work as such - it must become." Kinderman's explication of Adorno's writing reads as if it were an English translation from the German: "This concept of the musical work of art," Kinderman writes, "thus eschews relativism and structuralism by placing analytic criticism in the service of aesthetic categories in an immanent relationship with the music, which remains ever unknown in its totality, waiting for its true realization."

Well, fortunately we are back to English in the body of the book which lucidly sets out to reveal the "narrative design" intrinsic to each Beethoven work. Such a design "is not externally imposed, and it eludes reductionistic interpretations in programmatic or structuralist terms." In this connection Kinderman quotes Beethoven's contemporary Adolf Bernhard Marx, who "addressed Beethoven's works using the criteria of Organic wholeness and coherence' and perceived in them a 'dramatic narrative.'" Kinderman is at his best when revealing the "dramatic narrative" intrinsic to Beethoven's greatest compositions.

Following the philosophical "overture," there are twelve chapters that take us from "the Bonn Years" through "The Last Phase, 1826-1827." The chronology is fairly conventional. It includes two chapters on "the Heroic Style"; there are chapters on the "The Congress of Vienna Period, 1813-1815", "Struggle," "Triumph, 1822-1824," and perhaps surprisingly one chapter given to "The Hammerklavier Sonata, 1816-1818." Although the book is organized chronologically, it is not a biography of the composer. Kinderman's priority is "representative musical works in the major genres... The primary focus of the present study," Kinderman writes in the Preface, "is aesthetic rather than biographical..." For what little biography is offered, Kinderman particularly relies on Maynard Solomon's psychoanalysis of the composer (,Beethoven, 1977). And there is reference to Forbes-Thayer and a few other mostly contemporary biographers.

The heart of Kinderman's Beethoven lies in its brilliant explication of the "dramatic narrative" inherent in the majority of the composer's works. Kinderman's analyses are original - sometimes breathtakingly so - insightful, sympathetic, and entirely convincing. It is impossible to read this book without having gained renewed appreciation of Beethoven's massive achievement. And in quite another connection, it would be difficult to read this book without at least some technical musical knowledge or at the least, real familiarity with the works at hand. …

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