Edward Dusinberre 2016. Beethoven for a later age. The journey of a string quartet. London: Faber & Faber, 262 pp.

A wonderfully conceived and executed book centred around the Takács Quartet and their playing of the late Beethoven string quartets. The author, Edward Dusinberre, is the second First Violinist (as it were) of the Takács Quartet (the first First Violinist having retired). He writes in roughly equal measures of the challenges and intricacies of playing the music, of the interactions between members of the Quartet, and of Beethoven himself and his contemporaries.

A most wonderful companion to the music and a book to revisit regularly, although I longed to hear the voices of the other Hungarian members of the quartet from themselves (as distinct from as remembered by Dusinberre). In Dusinberre’s telling they seem to sweat alternative interpretations of every last phrase of every work they rehearse, and it would be cheap to observe they maybe should get out more. Perhaps the Hungarians would wish that a bit more too? Maybe even Beethoven himself (who seemed much more concerned with tempi than with notes).

About Beethoven I learned how he managed to remain remarkably isolated from the upheavals of the times, Napoleon’s war and defeat, and other revolutions and persecutions. He seemed to confine his political activism and idealism to his art, in a way strikingly similar to that of Leonardo da Vinci. I guess if you really are a genius you behave as you must.

About musicians I learned that they likely get more from the music and from their performances than most members of the audience, or at least appreciate it at another level. Audiences lacking a formal musical training take the music differently, but I think more as the composer intended. Such is the initial and likely unfair impression from this splendid book.