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Go Behind the Scenes of Unquiet, My Life with Beethoven

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Publisher's Summary

“Beethoven is a humanist, and an arsonist.”

In his vivid and profound addition to Audible’s Words + Music series, Jonathan Biss, the world renowned pianist and critical Beethoven interpreter of our time, expounds on the spellbinding hold the classical figure and his work possesses over him. Biss doesn’t just love Beethoven more than other music, he loves it more than most things. It’s the lens through which he understands the world, and has been since he can remember. But in Unquiet, Biss reveals the full extent to which Beethoven is also a ruthless lens through which he views himself. 

Biss provides listeners front and center access to his long overdue confrontation with a painful truth: Living with Beethoven has essentially amounted to severing all meaningful ties with himself. As we learn in rich detail, amidst the treasures Beethoven’s music has gifted Biss also lies searing self-doubt and heaps of crippling anxiety. Biss’ raw self-reflection is delivered through pitch-perfect prose, delving deep into the fascinating paradox that the greatest pleasure in his life is also responsible for imprisoning him. Beethoven’s defining personal characteristic - for example, his unwavering self-conviction and weapons-grade callousness - only served to mock Biss’s own perceived shortcomings and vulnerabilities. This captivating combination of wit and wisdom Biss readily shares is only interrupted by something even more extraordinary - his new interpretations of movements from seven of Beethoven's sonatas, including the "Pathetique" and "Tempest", and his groundbreaking, awe-inducing final sonatas.

Unquiet both begins and ends with Jonathan Biss staring down the daunting complexity and infinite majesty of Beethoven's last piano sonatas. But between these two points, the singular pianist has traversed a world of healing. An immeasurable weight has been lifted from him - by him. And we have witnessed its dramatic rise. While his journey is a fantastically unique one, if we listen close, we can hear ours, too. An endless battle to confront and quiet our greatest pain so that we can embrace something even greater. Take a moment, and heed the sound.

©2020 Jonathan Biss (P)2020 Audible Originals, LLC.

About the Creator and Performer

Jonathan Biss is a world-renowned pianist who channels his deep musical curiosity into performances and projects in the concert hall and beyond. In addition to performing with today’s leading orchestras, he continues to expand his reputation as a musical thinker and one of the great Beethoven interpreters of our time. For more than a decade, he has fully immersed himself in Beethoven's music, exploring the composer’s works and musical thought through a wide variety of projects.
In 2011, Mr. Biss set out on a journey to record Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas, and the project recently concluded with the release of all 32 of these landmark works in a 9-disc box set on Orchid Classics. Complementing this cycle is his free, online Coursera lecture series Exploring Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas, which has reached more than 150,000 students from nearly every country in the world. He has written extensively about the music he plays, and has authored three e-books, including Beethoven’s Shadow, the first Kindle Single written by a classical musician, published by Rosetta Books.
Mr. Biss has taken a different approach to surveying Beethoven’s five piano concertos, embarking on a commissioning project, Beethoven/5, that pairs each Beethoven concerto with a new concerto composed in response. Launched in 2015 in partnership with lead commissioner the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, this project has led to the world premieres of piano concertos by composers Timo Andres, Sally Beamish, Brett Dean, Salvatore Sciarrino, and Caroline Shaw.
Mr. Biss’s work represents his complete approach to music-making and connecting his audience to his own passion for the music. His past projects have included "Late Style," an exploration of the stylistic changes typical of composers as they approached the end of life, in various concert programs at Carnegie Hall, the Barbican Centre, Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and San Francisco Performances. He also gave master classes at Carnegie Hall and published his e-book Coda on the topic. Schumann: Under the Influence was a 30-concert exploration of the composer's role in musical history, for which Mr. Biss also recorded Schumann and Dvořák piano quintets with the Elias String Quartet and wrote A Pianist Under the Influence.
Jonathan Biiss represents the third generation in a family of professional musicians that includes his grandmother Raya Garbousova, one of the first well-known female cellists, and his parents, violinist Miriam Fried and violist/violinist Paul Biss. Growing up surrounded by music, Mr. Biss began his piano studies at age six, and his first musical collaborations were with his mother and father. He studied with Evelyne Brancart at Indiana University and with Leon Fleisher at the Curtis Institute of Music. He has since appeared with major orchestras around the world, including in the U.S. with the Los Angeles and New York Philharmonics; the Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco Symphonies; and the Cleveland and Philadelphia Orchestras. Mr. Biss is Co-Artistic Director, alongside Mitsuko Uchida, at the Marlboro Music Festival, where he has spent thirteen summers. He has also been recognized with numerous honors, including Lincoln Center’s Martin E. Segal Award, an Avery Fisher Career Grant, the 2003 Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award, and the 2002 Gilmore Young Artist Award.
For more information, please visit jonathanbiss.com.

Highlights from Stephen Fry's conversation with Jonathan Biss at the 92Y about Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven.

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Dear Listener,

Why did I choose this format to tell my story?
" Unquiet is about my relationships with Beethoven and with myself, the complicated ways in which those relationships intersect, and my lifelong struggle to build healthier ones. It is also, zooming out even further, about finding my voice. So it feels very appropriate that Unquiet is, in a literal sense, in my voice. Every word in it is written and spoken by me; every note is played by me. Performing classical music in public is a strange mix of revealing yourself and hiding—it's terribly intimate in a way, but it's also not your music you're playing, not your ideas that are on display. In writing this personal history, I wanted to be unflinchingly honest about my relationship with Beethoven, without using him as a shield. I hope that it will be meaningful to anyone who listens to it, but I can already say that writing and reading it was incredibly meaningful to me: it forced me to pull truths out of myself that I had long kept inside, and to begin the long process of coexisting peacefully with them." – Jonathan Biss, creator and performer of Unquiet: My Life with Beethoven

What listeners say about Unquiet

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Love, as always, is the answer.

There can be no doubt that this piece is intensely open and achingly honest. There is also no doubt that the courage it took to go that deeply into such personal love, pain and fear equals the courage it takes to display those same emotions in performance. I sorrow that I have never before listened to Beethoven played by Mr. Biss. Based on this, that will change. I am immensely grateful for this book and the thoughts contained therein. I recommend this.

25 people found this helpful

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Ambivalent

I'm a big fan of Biss's musical performances in general, and of course here in "between chapter" interludes in "Unquiet." I've also taken a few online classes on Beethoven piano sonatas from him, which were excellent. I started out enjoying this story of Biss's journey, but as I got further into it I felt increasingly uncomfortable, feeling that the whole thing was a bit self indulgent, and the experience was sort of like listening to a session with the author's therapist. It was interesting (especially the parts where Biss describes the challenges of being a touring professional musician), yet in the end I was ambivalent about the whole thing.

17 people found this helpful

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Beautiful

This is the best Audible Original I’ve heard. I’m not a big fan of classical piano but Mr. Biss transported me to his world of living with the passion of Beethoven. It’s intimate, educational, passionate and deeply personal. I love the use of music throughout. Mr. Biss bravely let us in and it is remarkable as a personal journey as well as a document on how the pandemic has affected everyone especially artists.

12 people found this helpful

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A mesmerizing account of a gifted artist

I am in awe. I never expected such an open display of talent and vulnerability. Seeking a sleep story I awakened to the life and world of Jonathan Biss. His narrative and his heart wrenching performance of Beethoven’s sonatas have touched me in ways I have never, in all my 82 years, have been touched. Kudos to this great artist whose writing matches his musician’s talent.

9 people found this helpful

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Sublime!

Biss weaves together his passion and fascination for Beethoven with souring musical examples of astounding grace. This is an intimate story from an concert Artist in the time of Covid. It is deep, romantic and breathtakingly beautiful.

6 people found this helpful

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bravo! A joy and privilege. Thank you for c

loved it. cherished it. Insightful and honest. magnificent music. your love and understanding of this music is a special gift. Thank you

5 people found this helpful

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Profound and eye-opening

The combination of prose and music made this a particular powerful memoir. I hope this provides a springboard for other people — performers and others to feel comfortable and confident when discussing anxiety issues.

5 people found this helpful

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Me Me Me My Life with Beethoven

This selection would have benefited from just a bit more Beethoven and much less navel-gazing and self-adoration from the writer. While the story could have been very engaging, the constant "I", "I", woe is me are exactly the symptoms and the sad affliction of much of society today. Disappointing.

4 people found this helpful

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healing

vibrating something I will listen to over and over with my eyes shut in my solopin

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Beautiful performances, lacking story

First, I will say that I respect Biss as a musician and I enjoyed his thoughtful performances very much. However, as far as the story goes, it seemed like Biss's account was something very important for him to put out there, for his own catharsis, but I personally didn't find much value or inspiration in it for me. It came across as a little self-indulgent, like publishing conversations from one's therapy sessions for the purpose of signaling profundity. If there was one insight that it afforded me, it was that any endeavor to find meaning in music or musical passion purely from a materialistic perspective, trapped within the confines of one's own self, is bound to end in either self-deception or frustration. Unfortunately but understandably, Biss wasn't ultimately able to answer the questions that he posed to himself within that framework.

3 people found this helpful