Musical biography

In praise of burning pianos

How are non-conformists assimilated within the cloistered walls of tradition? Richard Wagner supplied the best answer to the age-old question in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, when Hans Sachs, the cobbler-poet, reconciles youthful ardour with the wisdom bestowed by experience. Learn from the masters, he tells the townsfolk, if you want to start afresh. It was a lesson absorbed by all the great modernists. Stravinsky, Joyce, Eliot, Picasso, Kandinsky and the rest of the gang understood thoroughly what had come before. Alas, it is a lesson as yet unlearned by Kate Molleson, whose pleading on behalf of ten musical misfits is unlikely to ‘open our ears’, despite her best intentions. For

If we stop idolising Beethoven we might understand him better

Ludwig von Beethoven belongs among those men whom not only Vienna and Germany, but Europe and our entire age revere. With Mozart and Haydn he makes up the unequalled triumvirate of more recent music. The ingenious depth, the constant originality, the ideal in his compositions that flows from a great soul assure him… of the recognition of every true admirer of the divine Polyhymnia. Originality, nobility, greatness, genius – when it comes to Beethoven, we all know the score. It was a beatification that happened early, as this paean from Germany’s deliciously titled Morning Paper for the Educated Classes reminds us. Published in 1823, a few years before Beethoven’s death,