Beethoven’s Fifth Through History
By Matthew Guerrieri
Knopf, $26.95, 360 pages
Matthew Guerrieri’s The First Four Notes tracks the iconic opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony throughout history. Guerrieri embraces both the technical and social reception of the symphony from its early reception as something radically new, through its role crossing class boundaries in the Victorian period, and its importance to American Transcendental thinkers and writers. The analysis is thorough and wide ranging, and will leave the reader with a profound respect for the breadth of the author’s research. This book is primarily scholarly and readers will need at least a basic knowledge of musical theory to follow some of the arguments. Additionally, the author is steeped in a scholarly tradition, and readers who have not recently read Hegel may struggle through the more technical and philosophical chapters. However, those who press on through the technical chapters will gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the roles that Beethoven has been pressed into throughout history.
Reviewed by Katie Richards