Reviews for First Four Notes : Beethoven's Fifth and the Human Imagination

Booklist Reviews 2012 November #1
Music critic Guerrieri traces the cultural history of the most famous musical motif, recognized from its rhythm alone--da-da-da-dum (you know the tune). Identified with revolution right out of the gate, partly because "La Marseillaise" opens with the same rhythm, it was made to signify Fate by Beethoven's German literary contemporaries, to point to the ultimate by both Hegel's nationalizing epigones and the individualist American Transcendentalists, to be the repository of repressed Victorians' emotions, and to sound the death knell of the Third Reich (in Morse code, da-da-da-dum denotes V, as in victory). Guerrieri closely inspects those developments, bogging down some in the effusions of the notoriously recondite Hegel, Nietzsche, and Adorno, to be sure, before concluding with "Samples," on the many uses pop culture has found for da-da-da-dum--the disco hit, "A Fifth of Beethoven," is not the least consequential, he avers. For readers taught not to pile philosophical and literary baggage on music, the most enjoyable chapter may be the first, which places the motif in strictly music-historical context, but the others definitely have their fascinations. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 April
While reading this book's opening chapters the reader may have a classification problem. What is the book to be--an extended program note, or a Tovey-style analysis in pure text mode? No, it is something else. Most broadly, it considers the reception accorded Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 from the time of the work's creation to the present. Reception, however, is just the starting point for Guerrieri (Boston Globe music critic) to walk through the views of 19th- and 20th-century aesthetic philosophers and others--e.g., Heinrich Schenker--and explore the unparalleled influence of Beethoven's music. Thus, by design the book is as digressive as it can be, with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony sitting resolutely in the background rather in the manner of a Schenkerian Urlinie. As more intellectual history than music history, the volume does not compete directly with Elliot Forbes's score-plus-essays in the "Norton Critical Scores" series (Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, 1971), or with books like George Grove's Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies (first published 1896). An engaging style, a gentle handling of technical matters, and other features (the recordings section is spot on) make the book useful, accessible, and attractive even to nonmusicians. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty. B. J. Murray Miami University Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #1

Da-da-da-dum! Guerrieri, music critic for the Boston Globe, offers what looks to be the only book available to lay readers offering an in-depth examination of Beethoven's beloved and magisterial Fifth Symphony. If this book seems special, just remember that Beethoven has nearly a million followers on Facebook--take that, rock stars!

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #3

Music's most memorable da-da-da-dummm touched off a cultural and intellectual ferment that's ably explored in this sparkling study. Boston Globe music critic Guerrieri opens with an engaging musicological investigation of how Ludwig van Beethoven orchestrated his Fifth Symphony's urgent rhythms and unsettling harmonies into a work of unique emotional and rhetorical force: listeners agree that it says something powerful and profound, he notes, even if they can't agree on what it's saying. Guerrieri surveys the many meanings that have been attached to the Fifth, by novelists from E.M. Forster to Ralph Ellison and thinkers from Nietzsche to Sartre; by American transcendentalists and Chinese Maoists; by Nazis and their Allied opponents, who both claimed it as a symbol of their cause; by avant-garde composers, disco arrangers, and ring-tone purveyors. Guerrieri often wanders away from Beethoven for luxuriant digressions on German romanticism or Victorian patent laxatives, but clothes his erudition in lucid, breezy prose. He makes the muzziest musico-philosophical conceits accessible and relevant, while tossing off his own intriguing insights--"Beethoven's heroic music is a lot like Steve McQueen's acting"--with the flick of a baton. The result is a fresh, stimulating interpretation that shows how provocative the familiar classic can be. (Nov. 15)

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