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Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved
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September 2019: Cultural > Beethoven's Hair, by Russell Martin, 3 stars

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message 1: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 05, 2019 03:02AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5785 comments Wow, this wasn't quite what I expected, but it fit the bill for a Beethoven themed book club meeting tonight. This book gave me just enough information about Beethoven's life and health, plus information about forensic hair analysis, culture in late 1700's - 1800's Europe, a new world war II story (in Denmark this time), and investigative efforts that tie all those things together.

In 1994, two Beethoven fans bought a locket of Beethoven's hair from a Sotheby's auction, and over the next several years found experts to analyse a few strands of the hair to attempt to answer some questions about Beethoven's health. They also sought to investigate the provenance of the locket by following it's travels over the course of 100 years.

In case you're interested, the hair analysis revealed that Beethoven (view spoiler)

It was interesting to read about the culture of salons, musical styles, the relationships among the musicians, and the slow growth of anti semitism in Austria and Germany. Much of this aligned well with a book I read a few years ago about the Mendelssohn family and a Bach manuscript.


message 2: by Jgrace (new)

Jgrace | 3018 comments I'm so glad you found it interesting, since I pointed it out to you. Do you have a star rating for it? I'm also curious about any other Beethoven themed books were discussed at your club meeting.


message 3: by Joanne (new)

Joanne (joabroda1) | 8108 comments This sounds really interesting! I am going to keep it mind-oh heck, I am going to add it to my shelf!


message 4: by NancyJ (last edited Sep 05, 2019 11:39AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 5785 comments Jgrace wrote: "I'm so glad you found it interesting, since I pointed it out to you. Do you have a star rating for it? I'm also curious about any other Beethoven themed books were discussed at your club meeting."

Thanks Jgrace for suggesting it! It gave me some interesting and unique tidbits to contribute tonight. I gave the book a solid 3 points overall. Much of it was a biography of Hiller, which wasn't as interesting to me. He adds a CODA at the end which is a much more complete and concise summary of the investigation about the Hiller family's movements during the war.

A musician/librarian will present on the (1000 page) Swafford biography. I'll find out tonight what others read. I hope they all show up (even if they didn't read anything) because this is a big deal to her. I'm prepared to quickly interject the not-syphilis note if any of the other books are still claiming it. If I have a chance to speak, I'll focus on his health, and maybe his last days and last composed music. Many people think he was deaf all his life, but his hearing loss was gradual, and even at the end, he could hear some music and (I think) some conversation.

I'm looking for the last pieces he wrote before he died. He was in a lot of pain, but the writing made him happier, and I want to hear it. If I like it, I'll bring it in to play while she's setting up.


message 5: by Karin (new)

Karin | 7301 comments NancyJ wrote: "Wow, this wasn't quite what I expected, but it fit the bill for a Beethoven themed book club meeting tonight. This book gave me just enough information about Beethoven's life and health, plus infor..."

Thanks for the spoiler--I haven't stayed up to date with that. Even though Beethoven is not very high on my son's list of great composers (due, in part, to the lack of decent trumpet parts in most of his orchestral works due to the very new type of orchestras and the very new modern trumpets, etc) I'll see if he already knows this from his music history class.


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