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Beethoven's Shadow

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  642 ratings  ·  102 reviews
The American pianist Jonathan Biss is known to audiences throughout the world for his artistry, musical intelligence and deeply felt interpretations.

What is less known until now is that Jonathan Biss writes about music in a most compelling and engaging way. For anyone who has ever enjoyed a Beethoven concert or a Beethoven recording or one of the many films about Beethove
Kindle Edition, Kindle Single, 56 pages
Published December 14th 2011 by RosettaBooks
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Average rating 3.44  · 
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Aug 29, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Schroeder
Music is kind of like go — I love listening to experts dissect the esoterica of it and go on about subtleties my unschooled mind can never appreciate. Even understanding the vocabulary is tough — what does that mean, that one sonata is "thicker" than another or that the "color" is different?

The difference is that I know a tiny bit about go and actually enjoy it, whereas I have no musical taste at all, and less talent. I mean, sure, I listen to music, but I don't even know why rock fans say Nicke
May 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: classical music lovers
When Jonathan Biss first talks about the process of recording the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, I was somewhat skeptical that this book was going to be something of an info-mertial (although, if it was intended as such, that would be pretty brilliant marketing). Instead, it was a wonderful exploration of Beethoven's music, and the way each musician must struggle to come to terms with Beethoven's genius--whether in performing his music, or composing one's own original music. Now, I want to re-read the ...more
Robin Lee Hatcher
I am not a musician nor someone overly familiar with classical music. But I truly enjoyed this short book with its look inside the world of Beethoven and renowned pianist Jonathan Biss. I had to stop the audiobook several times to write down quotes that applied to all artists, not just musicians.
Jul 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
I once attended a yoga workshop with a famous yoga teacher. He began his lecture with a demonstration, and watching him move from pose to pose I suddenly felt that I had never actually completed a yoga pose myself. I had only playacted a yoga practice. Far from being discouraging, the thought was exhilarating. So much to learn and discover. More than I could imagine.

I had this feeling again tonight. I have playacted at playing the piano for nearly 25 years. I've had fun, but I have not begun to
Caroline Mathews
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
I have a wonderful idea! Beethoven's Shadow would make a resourceful, one-of-a-kind audio book! The author could sit at the piano and play excerpts from the Beethoven (and other) musical examples he is making. I own many of the selections Biss mentioned and was driving myself crazy reading, searching for music, listening, re-reading.

Otherwise, Beethoven's Shadow was a research paper....a professional pianist holding forth on a fascinating subject but only to other musical brilliants. I couldn't
Aug 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Delightful. Jonathan Biss brought me back to what I love about music, and the glory of all there is to learn. He also made me realize how my current facilitation work is connected to my roots in piano performance. I love the thought of needing to "suppress safety in the pursuit of courage" and how he studies the connection of notes and phrases and context to prepare. Without a music background, this could be hard to approach.I read this as part of research I'm doing on music as metaphor - I defi ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Im personally kind of torn on this book. While it is well written, very well organized, and an interesting topic, it reads more like a thesis paper than it does an actual book. It doesn’t help that it tops out at 56 pages either, since the brevity keeps it from dropping squarely as solid hardcover.

For the casual reader and classical music listener, I can honestly say this likely isnt for you. The book details a lot of the works of Beethoven and various other composers in comparison but takes fo
Jan 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was a surprisingly good read. Mostly, this book covers the music of classical composers (particularly Beethoven), how the music world has evolved with the development of recording techniques, the relationship between a musician and their music, and other snippets of wisdom that are useful to any musician. The reading was difficult as he tended to use a lot of big words and elevated speech, so I would have to stop occasionally and think about what he was getting at. I would definitely recomm ...more
Nathan Moore
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
This is a book that will have a very unique, very narrow audience. This is like a long philosophical journal entry of Biss as he reflects on the joyful burden of interpreting and recording all 32 of Beethoven's sonatas over a period of 9 years. Master musicians and performers may be able to relate to many of Biss' reflections, but I was not. Nonetheless, I love Beethoven and I can read a short little book like this purely out of admiration for him. But I certainly wouldn't have finished this boo ...more
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short interesting audiobook gives the listener an insight into how a musician prepares to record or perform a piece. Bliss tells how the act of recording is different from the act of performing. Bliss mentions two pianists who influenced him: Arthur Schnabel and Rudolph Serkin and explains how their playing of Beethoven's sonatas differ. The only drawback to the audiobook for me was the exclusion of any music to explain what Bliss was saying about certain Beethoven sonatas - unless the list ...more
Oct 03, 2016 rated it liked it
Artist's Perspective (Audiobook)
I do enjoy Audible giving the members free books & chapters, it forces me to listen to genre I wouldn't normally purchase and there are some that I have really enjoyed that lead to future purchases.

This one, despite being something I never would have considered purchasing was interesting. It felt like one of the in depth stories that National Public Radio (NPR) often does but with more information.

The narrator Jeff Woodman did a very nice job with Jonathan Bliss
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
First thing to know about this book: I did not understand a word of it. I don't know classical music, and even with a film background, sound was never my thing. But it's a very passionate account of a quest for musical perfection (or imperfection). And I really do love listening to people talk shop, even when I haven't got a clue what they're talking about. Plus, it's nice and short. A great read, and free at Audible for right now, apparently! ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-in-2013
This was a free book from audible and after listening to it I know why it was free. Seriously If I hadn't been on a very long drive yesterday in mountains that have no cell phone service I would have given up on this book about 15 minutes in. The description Audible gave was of a book about Beethoven the person. Instead I listened to a very technical book about music performance and recording. Unless you are serious musician this book is a snooze. ...more
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved reading this little book by Jonathan Biss. From the very first sentence to the very end it is written with passion and love for great music and great performers. I have not been familiar with Mr. Biss's playing until now but he would surely be followed closely now. Because Beethoven simply takes my breath away and so did this book on his music! ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars
Simon Howard
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't enjoy this quite as much as "Coda" or "A Pianist Under the Influence" because it was clear that Biss wasn't quite as passionate about Beethoven's work as that of the other composers he's written about. But this is still an excellent essay. I particularly enjoyed his insights into the way in which recordings of music have influenced the development and performance of classical music over the last century or so. ...more
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In film, they tell you that short films cannot be like features - they can only effectively describe a sliver of life, a powerful moment in time. This short work occupies the same niche. Despite its brevity and relative generality, or perhaps because of them, it leaves the impression that nothing more needs to be said.

It is a work of dichotomy, in many ways. Beethoven's authority is paired with the interpreter's doubt, hair-raising coincidences with the daily grind of musical life, and the ackno
Marc Weidenbaum
Confused I didn't mention this when I read it, which is several months ago. Been meaning to write something more in depth at, or elsewhere. In the meanwhile: this book is a pianist talking about the difficulty about recording, by which he means both recording in general, and specifically recording an extended survey of Beethoven's work. Given that he has indeed written a book (or at least a lengthy Kindle Single), he protests a little too much about not actually being an author. It ...more
Hermine Biasci
Apr 28, 2014 rated it liked it
Beethoven’s Shadow is a profound journey within the mind of an extraordinary maestro and the young and talented pianist Jonathan Biss. It is about the simple realization that music has the uncanny ability to communicate the greatest things in life, it grabs a hold of you and doesn’t let go. At the age of 33 years old, Jonathan Biss is a renowned American pianist, a teacher and a writer. Following in the footsteps of many great pianists who’ve written about performing Beethoven, Biss’s short essa ...more
Nadia Clifford
Aug 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyed the piece, as it showed how even the prodigy pianists have the same struggles as I do as an amateur. The author gave voice to some of the vague ideas that I had myself but never paused to consider them deeper. Such as that one should never perform a piece after just having learned it. It needs to steep in the subconscious and it will get better, like magic. It was a pleasurable experience to realize that those semi-God pianists are actually humans, and often have the same struggle ...more
Apr 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I have read this short gem three times already!

Such a wonderful treatise on so many things:
- The perils of techniciization in destroying feeling in recorded performance
- the pressure new musicians are under (now that recording technology has made it possible to expunge defects entirely from recordings rendering them ?perfect?) to work on perfection PRIMARILY of technique largely to the exclusion of thoughtful and heartfelt interpretation
- the changing idea of what a good performance is now th
Carielyn Mills
Dec 23, 2016 rated it liked it
this doesn't seem like a subject a book should be about since the only people who would enjoy it are probably genius young musicians like the author. it seems more like academic forum discussion material. i don't see many people relating to his passion for pieces of music. he comes across as obsessed and one-dimensional - like a savant almost. he knows everything about classical music and doesn't know or want to know about anything else. there are many other wonderful things one can be passionat ...more
Alan Mills
Jul 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a wonderful Kindle Single, a meditation on playing Beethoven, and particularly his piano sonatas, by a world class pianist as he embarks on the daunting task of recording the entire cycle. Along the way, he discusses Beethoven's other chamber music (primarily the quartets, his piano concertos, and a smattering of works by other composers--his point being that everyone was defined by their relation to Beethoven's music.

I found this fascinating and well written. However, my view may have b
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I quite enjoyed this short book, which I stumbled upon quite by accident. I play classical piano (for myself, not professionally) and have played a number of Beethoven's works. This book gave me an entirely new prospective on the music. Biss has a love music and performing that clearly shines through every word. His explanations of what he enjoys and why are clearly articulated and logically presented. Now I need to go back and reread this book with my musical library at hand so I can listen to ...more
Mar 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the author's ruminations on the nature and essence of music. While reading this, I also viewed the documentary The Wrecking Crew and appreciated the overlap of concepts, despite the very different types of musical recording being discussed. There was a lot packed into this short book. ...more
Bcoghill Coghill
Dec 27, 2011 rated it liked it
I think this was a little to much for me. I am not a musician. I am a listener and seldom listen to Beethoven because it is too challenging. I prefer Mozart and Chopin and such.
I did enjoy this much suspect a musician would get much more from a reading.
Dec 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Being a non-musical type, I am probably not able to pick up nuances on Beethoven’s style of composition, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying Biss’s beautifully written essay on what goes through the mind of an artist/pianist as he tries to tackle Beethoven’s piano sonatas.
Aug 13, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
So let me preface this. I am not a musician and I don't know anything about Beethoven's music. That being said, I did like parts of this a lot. There were some words of wisdom that can apply to any facet of life. It was interesting but I am very glad it was short! ...more
Aug 28, 2013 rated it it was ok
This is a great insight into a musician's head, but it would have been so much better if you could cue up the music he was describing to really understand what he was talking about - I don't have all of Beethoven's sonatas on call in my memory quite enough for this to have been easier to follow. ...more
Jul 18, 2014 rated it liked it
I am not a musician myself, but I am an enthusiastic listener of concert music and my younger son is a piano student who is classically trained. Some of this book went right over my head, but I do feel as thought I gained some insight into the experience of learning and playing Beethoven.
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