e. "The Public Beethoven" and "The Private Beethoven.") Rather than integrating both facets of Beethoven the person and Beethoven the artist, as Jones does in his biography, Geck wishes to show us the two different sides of Beethoven through a sort of dichotomous split. The result makes for a rather dense, at times tedious read. Jones's skillful integration of the two facets of Beethoven's life seems to flow on a much more natural narrative level.
One of the characteristics that distinguish each of the biographies is their brevity. Unlike more definitive biographical studies, which tend to number into the late hundreds or even thousands in page count, both Jones and Geck manage to condense Beethoven's life to less than two hundred pages. This brevity has both its benefits and its limitations. On the one hand, the general reader, who perhaps has an appreciation of Beethoven's music that has spurred their interest in exploring the man behind the sounds, will appreciate a general introduction to that man's life and times. But for those specialists who have devoted months or even years to studying Beethoven's music and life, such short biographies may seem rather trite, under researched, or even vague.
Still, one of the benefits of short, condensed works of biography such as these is the fact that they provide us with a general overview of the composer, without boring us with too much detail on any one particular facet of the composer's life. They provide a clear structure that highlights the most important events in the composer's life, such as the dates of composition and the first performance of the most important works. In the event that we are unsatisfied and need to know more information about a particular event, then at least we have been provided with a context through which we may track down other studies.
For this reason, it is important to note that, while both authors provide bibliographical details for further reading, Geck's bibliography is by far more complete than that of Jones. What is more, Geck's bibliography is actually annotated and consists almost completely of other biographies. By reading Geck's annotations, we can discover which biographies are best in terms of content, but also which ones may focus on particular details of Beethoven's life and work that we may want to pursue in our individual research.
I think that both of these studies of Beethoven are commendable as biographies. However, if I had to recommend just one to my classmates, I would have to recommend the Jones biography. It provides a more objective account of Beethoven's life, including plenty of primary sources, as well as musical examples scattered throughout the text to give those with some knowledge of music a better idea of Beethoven's vast achievements.
While Geck's biography is interesting, it is also dull in places, due to the structural problems described above. And since both biographies are so brief, when read side by side, a lot of the ideas and information conveyed are redundant. For this reason, I recommend reading the Jones biography. If you were still interested in reading more about Beethoven's life, then it would be useful to read a longer, more detailed biography, or even a first-hand source, such as a collection of Beethoven's letters.
At the end of reading the biographies of both Geck and Jones, we are left with an impression of Beethoven that often confirms the stereotype of the Romantic genius at odds with his era. but, as both biographers point out, this is a notion that Beethoven played a major role in fostering. As an emblematic figure of Romanticism, Beethoven not only composed some of the most important music of all time; he also gave rise to common beliefs about the myth of artistic genius. Ultimately, it may be impossible for a truly "objective" account of Beethoven's life to ever emerge, owing to the fact that mythology and reality are inextricable when considering the legacy of this great man - and the music that continues to live on, all these years later.
Geck, Martin. Beethoven. London: Haus Publishing, 2003.