Barry Cooper proposes in this medium-sized biography to give us a picture of Beethoven through a study of his music as the central theme of the composer’s life. In part, this is an endeavour to correct the many vituperous and fanciful biographies and commentary that became fashion after the middle of the 20th century to denigrate any historical European figure that might pose as a kind of hero; such dirty tactics often employed cryptic Freudian readings and other such magical means of divining colorful thoughts shaped more according to the writers of such nonsense than to what we could, in fact, confirm or see clearly in the object of their decadent trains of thought.
What Cooper shows us is he portrait of a genius of a composer along with all the quirks and vulnerabilities that Beethoven suffered from. We are shown his idealistic ramblings and acts, from a well-meaning but also quite believable point of view. For the music enthusiast, the passion that Cooper transmits along with the copious yet not overbearing amount of technical details and descriptions is more than a delight, it is the concretion of the figure of the composer who gives his life for higher art; and in so doing, someone like Beethoven crafted works that are either immortal, or at least the future benchmark for Western classical music.
An impartial reader might also, however, be drawn to notice the negative effects of such an imbalanced asceticism, which suffered from such neglect on part of Beethoven towards so great portions of his life and being that one might contend whether he was actually a genius or simply an obsessive nerd whose whole ego rested on his musical accomplishment. At least ‘equally great’ composers such as Johann Sebastian Bach (which I am inclined to consider superior as a whole) certainly did not destroy or neglect their lives as a kind of payment; rather, greater artists seem to live a life of nurture and an impulse away from their natural indulgence and sensitivity towards maturity to some extent (see Sibelius, for instance).
Among the things that Groome does not hide from us, is the great emotional immaturity that Beethoven always displayed, and that he at least recognized as a part of himself, thought he may perhaps not have called it immaturity or indeed a completely negative trait. The music of Beethoven is the technical peak of Western European classical tradition in music, and it achieves such a feat by a brutal dedication by the composer who virtually gave his life for such an immortality of name. His dreams aligned with a kind of Masonic worship of the quasi-gnostic Godhead, and an ignorant artist’s dreams of human equality and what not (which superficiality can be observed in his changed dedication of his 3rd Symphony). A great work he left, but a poor example of a life well-lived.