Thursday, March 17, 2011

Featurning Books I Love: The Last Master

I would like to begin with Beethoven's own words, written in 1822 as they appear in the frontispiece of John Suchet fascinating fictional biography of The Last Master

You will ask me where I get my ideas. That I cannot tell you with certainty; they come unsummoned, directly, indirectly -- I would seize them with my hands -- out in the open air; in the woods; while walking ; in the silence of the nights; early in the morning; incited by moods, which are translated by the poet into words, by me into tones that sound and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.
The Last Master is a trilogy about the life of Beethoven. John Suchet is a well-known British television newscaster and now radio presenter for Classic FM. In 1996 he published the first volume of his novels: Passion and Anger. This was followed by Passion and Pain and finally Passion and Glory.

I am crazy about Beethoven's music, and am fierce in my appreciation of its depth and beauty, but pretty ignorant as far as understanding how the magic works. In my imagination I saw him to be a  romantic, dark and brooding figure whose life was touched by much tragedy. I could hardly wait for each edition to become available. Although a fictional, Suchet set himself a rule in the negative that, "nothing in this book could not have happened". He also maintains that on those occasions when his research showed his rule had been broken, he went back and sometimes had to rewrite whole passages.

Passion and Anger tells the story of Beethoven's early life -- beginning in Germany with a difficult childhood but showing musical ability when he was very young we follow the young man's story as he finds his way to Mozart and Vienna., to become the man who many believe was the greatest composer of all. The book ends with his acknowledgement that his loss of hearing is irreversible, that he will be deaf.

Passion and Pain tells of a composer beset by deafness, yet at the height of his powers. He writes Symphony number three, the 'Eroica', the 'Emperor' Concerto, the Fifth and the 'Appassionata' Sonata and he is deaf.  Who was his 'Eternally Beloved', what happened when Vienna was invaded by Napoleon's army? He was difficult, angry and often cruel and unkind. He was immensely famous and spoiled by his admirers and royal patrons.

Passion and Glory concludes the fictional account of Beethoven's life with the era of the 7th Symphony and the glorious "Ode to Joy" written by a man increasingly ravaged by disease and in constant pain. Often cruel and manipulative towards his family and everybody who cared about him, he suffered great personal disappointments oftened deserved. He was always larger than life; music was always his salvation.

Suchet writes at the end of his Preface:
My own feelings towards Beethoven metamorphosed over a decade or so of researching and writing. Early drafts of the novel were written from the perspetive of a bystander. Not surprisingly -- and to my disappointment -- I found that I did not like him as much as I expected. I was not as tolerant of his moods and his unpredictability as some others around him.
Slowly, though, I came to understand him better. And as I came to understand him I grew fond of him. I began to experience his emotions; I knew how he would react to given situations because I was thinking like him. I was now writing his story through his eyes.
It is easy to admire Beethoven; less easy, I discovered, to like him. I have come to know him intimately, and in so doing  to like him. I hope the reader will come to like him too.
It is still possible to obtain copies through and Please note that I do not benefit financially in any way from this post.
  • Suchet, John; 1996; The Last Master, Passion and Anger; London: Little, Brown and Company (UK)


  1. Oh, I do love these recommendations from others, so thank you again, Broad. Now on my library list, as I've already exceeded my book-buying budget for a while. Very much enjoying the Teresa Lust book by the way.

  2. I had to visit the library today and they had all three books on the shelf, all well-thumbed and obviously much read. I borrowed just the first to read while I'm in France next week. If I don't enjoy it I will probably fling it at you - all the way to Southport!

  3. @Perpetua: :-)))
    @Brighton Pensioner: Da-da-da daaaa! I'll be practising my OAP duck!!!! I envy you your quick trip -- living up here makes it impossible to nip over to the Lot where we need the car.

  4. I have to admit reading about Beethoven is not high on my list but you did make him sound interesting :-)


  5. Very Interesting blog. I am now a follower. I thought you might want to check out Paradox Principles
    All the best, Bob West

  6. G'day. I have not thought of reading about Beethoven, but, will try to source those books at my local library. He sounds very interesting. Take care. Liz...

  7. Why did Beethoven get rid of his chickens?
    All they said was: "BACH, Bach, Bach, Bach, BACH..."


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