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NONFICTION : THE LETTERS OF BEETHOVEN, edited and translated by Emily Anderson (Norton: $75).

June 22, 1986|Herbert Glass

Norton has rendered an invaluable service by reissuing, in three volumes, all the known correspondence of music's "Titan" and most prolific correspondent.

There are about 1,600 letters, many of them personally unearthed by Anderson, the Irish-born scholar who died in 1961, shortly after the publication of the letters, on which she labored for nearly 40 years--even during a World War II period of service as one of Britain's top intelligence agents in the Middle East.

The letters do not tell us how Beethoven composed, but rather what kind of man he was and the painfully contradictory situations in which he continually found himself: the pugnacious self-proclaimed egalitarian groveling for the favors of his noble patrons; the sharp-dealing businessman, selling his compositions to publishers in three countries at the same time; the passionate lover, but only of inaccessible women; the surrogate--and pathetically inept--father of his beloved nephew Karl; the great, universally respected artist with access to the intellectual and social elite of Vienna, yet throughout his life at ease only with friends he made--and never lost contact with--in his youth in provincial, unmusical Bonn.

The three volumes are handsomely slipcased, with extensive, helpful annotations by the translator-editor and plenty of fascinating reproductions of the original letters.

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