Thayer, Alexander Wheelock



Biographer of Beethoven; an American who has given the world the most reliable record of the life of the great master. Thayer was a young man when he set himself to this stupendous task, and not financially independent, but he held to his purpose and produced one of the greatest musical biographies ever written. For accuracy and careful exposition of detail, as well as impartial point of view, this biography has not perhaps been equaled. It contains a mass of newly discovered corrections and dates which make it invaluable to the student.


Thayer was born at South Natick, Mass. Took the degree of Bachelor of Laws at Harvard University in 1843, and for six years afterward was librarian in the college library. While in this position he came to the determination to attempt a complete and authentic biography of Beethoven. He went to Germany in 1849, spent two years at Bonn, Prague, Vienna and Berlin, studying German and collecting material, supporting himself meanwhile by writing articles for American newspapers. He returned to America in 1852, and for a time was on the staff of the New York Tribune and a contributor to Dwight's Journal of Music. In 1854 he returned to Germany and spent almost a year working on the Beethoven material in the Royal Library in Berlin. Want of means brought him back to Boston in 1856, but he was helped and encouraged by Lowell Mason, whose musical library he catalogued, and by Mrs. Mehitable Adams. Once more he returned to Germany, in 1858, and pursued his work with renewed zeal. He communicated with Schindler, Wegeler and Huttenbrenner in Germany, with Neate, Hogarth and Potter during a visit to London, and searched the museums and libraries, carefully investigating all documents bearing on the subject. In 1862 he was given a position in the United States legation at Vienna, and In that city, teeming with associations of Beethoven, had the best possible opportunity to carry on his work. In  1865 President Lincoln made him Consul at Trieste, where he was stationed until 1882. During this period, while not attending to official duties, he traveled about gathering material. The first contribution he sent out was a thematic and chronologic list of Beethoven's works. The first volume of the biography was published in 1866, in German, the biographer choosing to give the original edition to the Germans and in their own tongue. He wrote the manuscript in English, the translation into German being made by a noted musical biographer, Dr. Hermann Deiters. The second volume appeared in 1872, the third in 1879, and though he lived many years longer, failing health, due to his exhausting labors, prevented his finishing the work himself. At his death his executor turned over the great mass of material to Dr. Deiters, by whom the Beethoven biography was brought to completion. It was Thayer's hope to issue. a revised English edition after the final volume in German should appear, but as yet those who read the Thayer biography must read it in German.