Read Between the Lines: Kent State Musicology Professor Looks Deeper Into the Life of Beethoven

Image from Pixabay

The aroma of fresh espresso from Cafe Havelka and historical streets of downtown Vienna, Austria, have become oddly familiar to Theodore Albrecht, who has spent over 20 summers there retracing the footsteps of the famous Austrian-German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. 

Theodore Albrecht

Albrecht is a professor of musicology in the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music at Kent State University. This dedicated Beethoven scholar has conducted all of Beethoven’s nine symphonies throughout his career and has studied the famous composer for years. 

In 1996, Albrecht was diligently working on his original project, annotating and translating letters to Beethoven. Approximately 430 letters written to the famous composer by his friends and family were meticulously studied for his previous publications.

Then a new opportunity presented itself.

Albrecht took on an additional project to annotate, edit and identify meaning in hundreds of books filled with the personal anecdotes of Beethoven and the people in his everyday life. He relied on context clues, such as ads and news, to assist in filling in missing information such as people and dates not clearly identified in the text. 

Over time, Albrecht found that his two projects worked together to add further understanding and context to each other. The simultaneous projects gave Albrecht the opportunity to add depth and discover new details of Beethoven’s life.

“I started to find that over time, the projects would coincide with each other,” Albrecht said. “They helped one another grow.”

Image of sheet music from Beethoven’s Symphony.

Beethoven’s Symphony
Image from Pixabay

Beethoven began losing his hearing at the age of 27. By 48, he needed assistance while engaging in conversation. For the next nine years, Beethoven carried around blank books and a pen for those with whom he corresponded, so they could reply to him. Nearly 300 books were filled at the time of his death at the age of 57.

“It was an ironic turn of events,” Albrecht said. “Right as Beethoven hit the prime of his career, he started losing his hearing.” 

Volumes one through three of his annotated and translated conversation books have already been published. Albrecht hopes to have volume four out in October of 2021 with eight more on the way.

“These books are truly a game changer regarding the understanding of Beethoven and his time.”Abrecht said.

Albrecht has received substantial positive feedback from other scholars and musicians looking to better understand the life of Beethoven. 

According to Lewis Lockwood with “The New York Review of Books,”  “When it is completed, it should rank as one of the most important contributions to Beethoven scholarship in the English language.”

Albrecht strives to make his publications as user-friendly and easy to follow as possible. Each page contains the original text, contextual meaning, date, location, present bodies and writer. 

“I wanted everything to be in one spot so the reader isn’t constantly flipping from the front to back looking for a missing piece,” Albrecht said.

As inspiration during the countless hours of work spent on these projects Albrecht would often play Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 which captured his attention at a young age, as it frequently played through his childhood home. 

Albrecht continues his work with immense respect for the original editors Dagmar Beck and Gritta Herre, who annotated the original German conversation books and worked alongside him to help improve the structure and content. 

Learn more about the Hugh A. Glauser School of Music.

POSTED: Friday, March 19, 2021 02:13 PM
Updated: Friday, December 9, 2022 02:18 PM
Theresa Lovrak