Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #38)

Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Author: Barbara Nichol
Illustrator: Scott Cameron
Pages: 32
Age Range: 13+
Published: 1993
Genre: Historical Fiction
Cover Score: *** 
Overall Grade: ****
Rating: G

A fictional uncle and nephew exchange a series of letters concerning the great Ludwig Van Beethoven who has moved into the spare room of the boy's house in Vienna.

The boy, whose father has recently passed away, begins by petitioning his uncle for help. Mr. Beethoven is a madman who is making their family the laughing stock of the city. He stands near his window naked, he pours pitchers of water over his head, he stomps his feet and growls and groans like an animal and has a horrible temper. The uncle admonishes him to be patient, reminds him that Beethoven is deaf and lonely and has had a hard life. The uncle leaves on a trip to Bonn, the city where Beethoven was born, and promises to do some investigating to see if there is anything he can tell the boy that might help.

Facts, behaviors and characteristics are swapped back and forth through the letters dated 17 September 1822 through 31 March 1825. During this time Beethoven is composing his Ninth Symphony and the denouement is the standing ovation of the performance. The uncle also inserts a few narrative comments throughout and one created 29 March 1827, three days after Beethoven's death, adding some additional information and context. 

This is a great introduction to a pivotal figure in musical history. You get a feel for who he was and why he acted the way he did as well as for how he was viewed by his contemporaries. Again, my only complaint would be that there is no timeline or indication of which things are factual and which are hypothetical. One would assume the story is based on fact but without doing a bit of research on your own there is no way to be sure. Still, it would be an ideal supplement to a unit on music or history or biographies or Austria and is the perfect length (which lovely pictures) for younger readers.

Apparently there are audio CDs and movie versions available that have the narrative story intertwined with snippets of the composer's music. It's also just one of a series spotlighting various other artists as well such as Vivaldi, Mozart, Handel and Tchaikovsky.  How is it I have missed these? Not sure, but I will definitely be looking them up at work tomorrow!

And on a totally random and unrelated topic, just wanted to share a song that's been playing non-stop on my ipod lately. (Hmm, maybe if we asked we'd find out they were influenced by Beethoven? Yeah, let's go with that!)

Have I mentioned that I heart banjos and fiddles? Yep. I do!

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