In This Review

Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces
Beethoven: A Life in Nine Pieces
By Laura Tunbridge
Yale University Press, 2020, 288 pp

Were it not for COVID-19, audiences in concert halls across the globe would have spent 2020 celebrating the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven—the most famous composer in the Western canon. Over the nearly two centuries since his death, many great books on the man and his music have appeared, telling readers nearly everything that can be known. This short, popular introduction takes a fresh approach. It portrays the man’s life through nine of his compositions. They span from his Septet, an early work with engaging and popular tunes, to the gnarly Grosse Fuge for string quartet, a late work that lay unrecognized as a masterpiece for a generation. Tunbridge highlights Beethoven’s genius by contrasting it with the prosaic details of an everyday life beset with financial worries, family crises, political squabbles, and loneliness. Her portrait is in no way original or comprehensive, but she succeeds in stripping Beethoven of the romantic exaggerations of him as a penurious, entirely deaf, politically revolutionary, curmudgeonly misanthrope. As a result, this biography leads readers back to Beethoven’s timeless music.