Classical music and biography


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It is always interesting and sometimes even important to have intimate knowledge of a composer’s life, but it is not essential in order to understand the composer’s works. In Beethoven’s case, one mustn’t forget that in 1802, the year he was contemplating suicide—as he wrote in an unsent letter to his brothers that came to be known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament”—he also composed the Second Symphony, one of his works that was most positive in spirit, thus showing us that it is of vital importance to separate his music from his personal biography and not to conflate the two.

These words in this part of my website come from Daniel Barenboim(1942-), the Israeli Argentine-born pianist and conductor. He has served as music director of several major symphonic and operatic orchestras and made numerous recordings. Currently, he is general music director of La Scala in Milan, the Berlin State Opera, and the Staatskapelle Berlin; he previously served as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre de Paris. Barenboim is also known for his work with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians, and as a resolute critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

In his essay in The New York Review of Books, April 2013, Barenboim does not provide an elaborate psychological study of the man Beethoven through an analysis of his works, or vice versa. The focus of his essay is Beethoven’s music. "It must be understood," writes Barenboim, "that one cannot explain the nature or the message of music through words. Music means different things to different people and sometimes even different things to the same person at different moments of his life. It might be poetic, philosophical, sensual, or mathematical, but in any case it must, in my view, have something to do with the soul of the human being." Barenboim says that music is metaphysical, but the means of expression are purely and exclusively physical: sound. "I believe it is precisely this permanent coexistence of metaphysical message through physical means," says Barenboim, "that is the strength of music. It is also the reason why when we try to describe music with words, all we can do is articulate our reactions to it, and not grasp music itself." For more on this subject go to:


Chief assistant to the assistant chief
Yes I would have to agree that the music and the man are different things.