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Book Review

Volume 13 • Number 2

Fall 2006

 

Research lite Meets Heavy Infotainment

 

by Peter Höyng
Translated by Rosemarie Greenman

Dieter Hildebrandt. Die Neunte: Schiller, Beethoven und die Geschichte eines musikalischen Welterfolgs. Munich: Carl Hanser, 2005. 367pp.

I wish this book many readers. It is a book for the educated general public, that is, the vanishing breed of readers for whom belletristic literature—a dying or already dead term?—was at the core of their self-image and who were impacting German-speaking societies by creating cohesion through a culturalhistorical canon of knowledge—whether enlightened or darkly pessimistic may remain subject to debate. For this group of readers Dieter Hildebrandt's study of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is indeed a classic: it is on firm scholarly ground with many sources and studies supporting the topic; it is challenging and makes one think; and, above all, it dazzles the reader with its strong tendency toward stylistic bravura. The latter, however, tends to tax one's patience rather severely from time to time, a frustration that may well be shared by others who, unlike myself, are not Germanists. There is a certain smugness—almost to the point of obsession at times—evident in the desire to put on a brilliant display of linguistic fireworks, which takes center stage and thus eclipses the particular facts presented. Hildebrandt's historical review of this symphony can, therefore, also be considered a paradigm for a crossbreed of a genre: it is research lite and at the same time heavy infotainment. The question one cannot help asking after finishing this book is whether its approach to sharing results of research still attracts the abovementioned group of readers. Is there an interest in this book and a market for it? Apparently there is, if one considers the success of Edmund Morris's Beethoven biography (2005), which was also marketed to the "general reader." In support of this conclusion, I will present numerous examples below.

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