Beethoven's Century

June 2008
4 black and white, 86 line illustrations
272 pages
9x6 in
Eastman Studies in Music
ISBN: 9781580462754
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
University of Rochester Press
BISAC MUS020000, MUS050000, LCO010000

Beethoven's Century

Essays on Composers and Themes

Hugh Macdonald

Essays by the noted authority on nineteenth-century music, the topics ranging from Beethoven and Schubert to comic opera to Scriabin and Janácek.
In Beethoven's Century: Essays on Composers and Themes, world-renowned musicologist Hugh Macdonald draws together many of his richest essays on music from Beethoven's time into the early twentieth century. The essays are here revised and updated, and some are printed in English for the first time.
Beethoven's Century addresses perennial questions of what music meant to the composer and his audiences, how it was intended to be played, and how today's audiences can usefully approach it.
Opening with a revealing analysis of Beethoven's not always generous regard for his listeners, the essays probe aspects of Schubert's musical personality, the brief friendship between Berlioz and Schumann, Liszt's abilities as a conductor, and Viennese views of Wagner as expressed by Hugo Wolf.
Essays on comic opera and trends in French opera libretti in the late nineteenth century reflect the author's long-standing sympathy for French music, and strikingly eccentric personalities in the world of music, such as Paganini, Alkan, Skryabin, and Janácek, are brought to life.
Beethoven's Century concludes with a wry look at some startling developments in early twentieth-century music that have often been overlooked.

Hugh Macdonald has taught music at the Universities of Cambridge, Oxford, and Glasgow, and since 1987 has been Avis H. Blewett Distinguished Professor of Music at Washington University, St. Louis. He has written books on Skryabin and Berlioz, and is a regular pre-concert speaker for the Boston and St. Louis Symphony Orchestras.

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Table of Contents

Beethoven's Game of Cat and Mouse
Schubert's Pendulum
Paganini, Mendelssohn and Turner in Scotland
Berlioz and Schumann
Alkan's Instruments
Liszt the Conductor
Wolf's Adulation of Wagner in the Vienna Press
Massenet's Craftsmanship
Skryabin's Conquest of Time
Janácek's Narratives
Raise Your Glass to French Music!
Comic Opera
"G-flat Major, 9/8 Meter"
The Musicians' Arrondissement
Les Anglais
Dr. Mephistopheles
The Prose Libretto
'Un pays où tous sont musiciens...'
Modernisms that Failed


The essays are each like a rich dessert and perhaps should not be all consumed at once. NINETEENTH CENTURY MUSIC [Christa Pehl]

These are gems in the genre of the literary-musicological essay. . . . Macdonald's wit emerges frequently in this volume. . . . I learned a great deal, and my attention and interest never wavered. A must read for anyone interested in modern French music and musical life. H-FRANCE [Glenn Stanley]. Read the full review at

Gems -- sometimes irreverent, always profound -- from one of the masters in our field. --Michael Beckerman, Professor and Chair of Music, New York University

Few writers today can match Hugh Macdonald's breadth and depth of scope. The essays in Beethoven's Century are often cast in the civilized, liberal traditions of the era that they describe. The writing is varied in texture and nourished by fascinating factual details. Macdonald urges us to think afresh, to go against the grain, to take the broader sweep. This book provides answers to questions you knew should be asked but never had the time (or the courage) to pursue. --David Charlton, Professor Emeritus of Music History, Royal Holloway, University of London

Macdonald's curiosity is boundless. . . and he satisfies it with unfailing scholarship and wit. . . . He gives the most thorough account yet of Hugo Wolf's complicated critical attitude to Wagner in a musically complicated Vienna. . . Depth of thought and high critical intelligence. . . mark all these essays, and make them an invigorating read. Raise your glass to Hugh Macdonald! OPERA [John Warrack]

The considered judgement of a receptive and immensely well-informed observer of the Western musical landscape of the past two centuries. Times Literary Supplement [Leon Plantinga]

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