The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven by Jonah Winter, pictures by Barry Blitt. Schwartz & Wade Books, 2006.
This book begins with a musical score in Beethoven's own hand. The end papers are an actual photograph of Beethoven's working manuscript for the Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op. 134.
Jonah Winter recounts the story of Beethoven’s pianos and the thirty-nine apartments where he lived in Vienna. So often children's "non-fiction" blurs the line between fact and speculation. Not so in this book. Winter clearly identifies what is fact and what is conjecture and does so with great humor.
Diaries, eviction notices, physical evidence and piano movers' notes are used as a basis for the story he tells. Why did Ludwig change apartments so frequently? Well, there is some evidence to suggest the neighbors complained. As Beethoven moves from place to place, Winter chronicles the music that was composed there. An author's note at the end gives additional information about his deafness and the amazing fact that he composed his magnificent Ninth Symphony after he had completely lost his hearing.
Barry Blitt's illustrations lift the story to a new level. We first see Beethoven as a baby crying in Gothic letters, "wha wha wha WHA." He accurately and humorously depicts the difficulties and incredible logistics involved in moving pianos to the new apartments, over rooftops, through windows and through walls. The composer's effect on his neighbors is depicted in a cross-section where we see the neighbors living above, below and next door to him reacting to the noise coming from his apartment in the middle. Babies cry, dogs bark and people pound on the floor, ceiling and walls as Beethoven plays.
This book is a must have for music teachers, piano teachers and students of music. What a treat!