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Why Beethoven

A Phenomenon in 100 Pieces

Norman Lebrecht

Without Beethoven, music as we know it wouldn’t exist. Who was this titan of world culture?

Through 100 recordings, Lebrecht brings to life the composer as we’ve never seen him before. Unruly, offensive and hopeless in so much of his life, yes, but driven to a fault and devoted to his art, conquering deafness to compose some of the towering works of our culture.

Along the way, we encounter the great musicians who have taken on the challenge of Beethoven, in all their glories and foibles. In this revealing, unique biography, Beethoven emerges as a cornerstone of the modern world.

All recordings are freely available on Idagio and YouTube.

  • Publication date: February 2, 2023
  • ISBN: 9780861544530
  • RRP: £20.00
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: February 2, 2023
  • ISBN: 9780861544547
  • RRP: £10.99
  • Pages: 336


'From one of our most prolific and wide-ranging writers on music, here is a connoisseur’s guide to Beethoven recordings fleshed out with vivid bits of biography and memoir. Most books recommend either recordings or works. This singular book does both.'

Jan Swafford, author of Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph

'With these 100 reverently irreverent venerations, Lebrecht not only burnishes further the immortal legend of Beethoven but demonstrates that language need not end where music begins. An illuminating and uplifting mosaic.'

Gabriela Montero, pianist and composer

'Norman Lebrecht, in his remarkable book, shows that Beethoven has, in his philosophical approach, as much relevance as he always had – maybe even more in these crazy times.'

Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director of the Cleveland Orchestra

'Norman Lebrecht has turned his attention to Beethoven, and in a way that no one has done before. Lebrecht has had the idea of taking 100 pieces, briefly describing their origins and character, and then critically examining, and recommending, recordings of them. You want to build a Beethoven library? There can be no better starting point. You want to expand your existing collection? This book is for you. Not just the familiar works — symphonies and piano concertos — but lesser known chamber pieces, and even songs and musical quips. Not many Beethoven books tell you about the 30-second musical joke ‘Schuppanzigh ist ein Lump’. Lebrecht  does. Few chapters are more than a couple of pages long. Bite-sized Beethoven. Brilliant idea.'

John Suchet, Classic FM presenter

‘An incredibly fascinating personal search for the “core” of Beethoven's personality, his legacies and relevance of his figure nowadays. Lots of details and facts were new to me, many of the chapters provoked me to think even further, beyond the music and philosophy of this titan.’

Vasily Petrenko, Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

‘The greatest artists repay a lifetime of study. Now Norman Lebrecht has given us a lambent summing up of his adventures with Beethoven, deeply personal yet grounded in music that we know and love, inspiring readers to offer their own answers to the question “Why Beethoven?”’

Tim Page, winner of the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for his music criticism in the Washington Post

‘The inimitable Norman Lebrecht here turns his glaring spotlight not so much onto the composer as onto responses to him over the intervening centuries. This is a Beethoven book for our pixelated, attention-deficient era… one heck of an enjoyable read.’

BBC Music Magazine

‘Any oldies who are a little hard of hearing will be moved by Norman Lebrecht’s new book.’


'Entertaining and informative... an ideal guide to the master’s wondrous achievements.'

Kirkus, starred review

‘This glorious study of Beethoven… a deep dive into the politics and cafe society of Beethoven’s day, and his effect on contemporary composers.’

Jewish Chronicle

'Why Beethoven is a provocatively illuminating, occasionally scandalous survey of the recordings that shaped Beethoven's life. It makes for an exhilarating narrative that in its wake also raises several divisive cultural issues.'

Strings Magazine

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is the author of twelve works of non-fiction, including Genius and Anxiety, also published by Oneworld, and the international bestsellers The Maestro MythWhy Mahler? and The Life and Death of Classical Music, which have been translated into seventeen languages. His first novel, The Song of Names, won a Whitbread Award and is now an award-winning film. He writes for the Spectator and the Wall Street Journal, and is working on his fourth novel. He lives in London. @NLebrecht

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