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.