The First Four Notes
Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination
Alfred A. Knopf, $26.95, 359 pp.
Matthew Guerrieri’s highly original book opens by asserting that Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony “might not be the greatest piece of music ever written...but it must be the greatest ‘great piece’ ever written.” Beethoven himself preferred his Third Symphony, the Eroica; yet as this book assiduously demonstrates, the Fifth has accrued such diverse and continuing commentary—“successive mantles of greatness,” as Guerrieri puts it—that it has no rival. Guerrieri...
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