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Alexander Wheelock Thayer

Alexander Wheelock Thayer

Alexander Wheelock Thayer (1817-1897) was a librarian at Harvard Law School when he began to doubt the accuracy of Anton Schindler's biography on Beethoven.  Convinced that Schindler's account (as a whole) was unreliable, Thayer learned German and sailed across the Atlantic (in 1849) to begin his own investigation.

Initially supporting himself and his endeavors with journalistic work, he was later appointed U.S. Counsel in Trieste.  In 1865, he commented on his Beethoven investigation:

I fight for no theories and cherish no prejudices; my sole point of view is the truth.

In 1921, Henry Krehbiel released the first English-language edition of Thayer's Beethoven biography.  Commenting on the author's painstaking efforts, Krehbiel wrote (in 1917):

His industry, zeal, keen power of analysis, candor and fair-mindedness won the confidence of all with whom he came into contact except the literary charlatans whose romances he was bent on destroying in the interest of the verities of history.

Thayer's monumental work is still the most-cited source on Beethoven's life:

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

This photo of Alexander Thayer (of unknown date) is from his German-language book on The Life of Ludwig van Beethoven, published in Leipzig during 1907.   (Ludwig van Beethovens Leben. Nach dem Original-Manuskript deutsch bearbeitet. Zweite Auflage. B&H, Leipzig, 1907.)


Media Credits

Photo from Ludwig van Beethovens Leben. Nach dem Original-Manuskript deutsch bearbeitet. Zweite Auflage. B&H, Leipzig, 1907.

Image online, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

 

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