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Levarie, S. (1979). Biography of a Composer. Am. Imago, 36(4):313-327.

(1979). American Imago, 36(4):313-327

Biography of a Composer

Siegmund Levarie

The special vitality of great creative men reveals itself in many ways. An obvious manifestation is the mere quantity of the output. The vitality also makes itself felt in its effect on later generations, for the literature about such men and their works seems like an endless flood nourished by the inexhaustible source.

To the many books on Beethoven, Maynard Solomon has added a new biography. Because it is a serious book, it deserves thoughtful consideration. The author is known to the readers of this journal by the appearance of his name on the editorial staff and of his articles on Beethoven in past issues. Why a new biography? Does it offer material and insights not previously available?

Humanists are slowly learning—and the good ones like Maynard Solomon have known it all along—that a historian can never be objective. The lesson, which should have been taught by humanists, is instead reaching them by embarrassing detour through the uncertainties of physics and some isolated voices of phenomenologists. The fad of imitating scientific method even when least appropriate is at last on the wane, mainly because the scientists themselves were the first to recognize their own limitations. Hence one sympathizes with a biography which honestly and openly declares its own prejudices. Among the many Beethoven biographies, there is actually one which, more than any other, approaches a kind of random objectivity—the result not so much of the author's intentions as of the circumstances surrounding his work. The first reliable and comprehensive biography of Beethoven was compiled in the second half of the nineteenth century by an American enthusiast, Alexander Wheelock Thayer, who in his middle age asked to be attached to some consular office in the Austrian monarchy just to be near the sources necessary for his work.

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