John Clubbe has written a thoughtful cultural history that takes into account the times in which Beethoven lived and worked—and they were times of revolution ... Clubbe knows his 19th-century history ... A chapter on the creation of 'Fidelio,' Beethoven’s only opera and an ode to human freedom, is especially comprehensive.
Using a variety of source material, including letters, personal papers, and portraits, Clubbe constructs a richly layered interpretation of the composer’s life and work ... An interesting approach to biography that adds depth to our appreciation of the world’s most famous classical composer.
Clubbe’s biography is a thorough account of Beethoven’s inspirations, collaborators, and his turbulent times. It frames his work with political events and makes a compelling argument for their impact on the man. But it does not explain his genius. His body of work is so huge and forbidding—that 'complex greatness'—that it makes sense to view it through a lens, whether of his deafness or political views. But in doing so we create our own deafness: we see the man rather than hear the music.