Writer appreciation: Daniel Heartz

written by Ben Hogwood

This is the first in an occasional series of posts where I would like to draw attention to writers on music, classical or pop, whose work I love and respect.

Yesterday Arcana’s Listening to Beethoven series reached the Second Symphony – the last work discussed by Daniel Heartz in the third volume of an epic series looking at music of the 18th century.

I wanted to draw attention to Daniel’s writing because this series of books is quite simply invaluable. When I first considered purchasing it I baulked at the price per instalment (roughly £45, even at second hand) but I can honestly say it has provided me with incredible value for money.

Heartz’s strengths are many, but his ability to talk through technical aspects of music without losing the reader in jargon is unusually strong. However even that quality is second to his knack of placing the music in historical context, which he does so throughout the books. I warmed to this quality in the third volume (Haydn, Mozart and early Beethoven 1781-1802) just as much in the second (Haydn, Mozart and the Viennese School: 1740-1780). Going back further, the equally sizable volume of Music In European Capitals: The Galant Style, 1720-1780 ensures lesser-known and appreciated composers such as Boccherini, J.C. Bach and Stamitz get the detail and respect they fully deserve.

Heartz is great at telling a story, applying the same detailed and pictorial approach to each composer or historical figure, and at every turn it is clear that a remarkable depth of research has been applied to his work. There is very little speculation needed, but where it is made he is never fanciful or exaggerated.

Very sadly Professor Heartz died in 2019. I must admit, rather selfishly, that I was hoping his exploration of Beethoven would continue beyond the year 1802, but on learning the sad news I can only say I am very grateful to him for illuminating the classical period of music history with such high quality, informed writing. His books will give pleasure and more information, no doubt, for many years to come.

A tribute to Daniel can be found here on the University of California website. The three books referred to above are published by W.W. Norton.