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Beethoven and the Construction of Genius

Musical Politics in Vienna, 1792-1803

Tia DeNora (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 252 pages
ISBN: 9780520211582
November 1997
$31.95, £25.00
In this provocative account Tia DeNora reconceptualizes the notion of genius by placing the life and career of Ludwig van Beethoven in its social context. She explores the changing musical world of late eighteenth-century Vienna and follows the activities of the small circle of aristocratic patrons who paved the way for the composer's success.

DeNora reconstructs the development of Beethoven's reputation as she recreates Vienna's robust musical scene through contemporary accounts, letters, magazines, and myths—a colorful picture of changing times. She explores the ways Beethoven was seen by his contemporaries and the image crafted by his supporters. Comparing Beethoven to contemporary rivals now largely forgotten, DeNora reveals a figure musically innovative and complex, as well as a keen self-promoter who adroitly managed his own celebrity.

DeNora contends that the recognition Beethoven received was as much a social achievement as it was the result of his personal gifts. In contemplating the political and social implications of culture, DeNora casts many aspects of Beethoven's biography in a new and different light, enriching our understanding of his success as a performer and composer.
Tia DeNora is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Exeter.
"It was high time that someone tried to explain more fully, and on the basis of the known documents, the course of Beethoven's meteoric rise to fame in Vienna at the end of the eighteenth century. . . . I would consider this cleverly written and authoritative book to be the most important about Beethoven in twenty-five years. No one considering the subject will be able to overlook DeNora's research."—H.C. Robbins Landon, author of Beethoven: His Life, Work, and World

"This is a study with the power to reshape our perceptions of Beethoven's first decade in Vienna and substantially refine our notions of the creation and foundations of Beethoven's career."—William Meredith, Ira Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San Jose State University

"Professor DeNora's achievement in placing Beethoven, and the reception of Beethoven's music, in social context is all the more impressive because it goes so much against the grain of conventional habits of thought. In illuminating how changing social institutions created opportunities for Beethoven to gain contemporary and posthumous recognition, and, in so doing, created new forms for thinking and talking about musical achievement—the author at once provides fresh insights into the institutional origins of 'classical' music and offers an exemplary contribution to the sociological study of the arts."—Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University

"An important landmark in our understanding of the relationship of the creative musician to society, and a vital contribution to debates about the central phenomenon which distinguishes Western music from other musical traditions: the phenomenon of the Great Composer."—Julian Rushton, University of Leeds

"This original book argues that Beethoven's high reputation was created as much by the social-cultural agendas of his aristocratic Viennese patrons in the 1790s as by the qualities of his music. DeNora's persuasive reading of this momentous cultural-artistic event will be welcome to sociologists for its successful contextualization of a hero of 'absolute music,' as well as to musicologists and music-lovers who wish to move beyond the myth of Beethoven as 'the man who freed music.'"—James Webster, Cornell University

"Lucid, well-researched, and theoretically informed, Beethoven and the Construction of Genius is one of the best works yet published in the historical sociology of culture. DeNora makes important contributions not only to our knowledge of Beethoven and of the social construction of genius but to the general problems of how identities are created, shaped, and sustained and of how aesthetic claims gain authority."—Craig Calhoun, University of North Carolina

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