Home Books The Final Symphony: A Beethoven Anthology: by Brandon Montclare and Frank Marraffino

The Final Symphony: A Beethoven Anthology: by Brandon Montclare and Frank Marraffino

Like many classical composers, the music of Ludwig van Beethoven has left a cultural impact far beyond the man’s lifespan. It’s almost a prerequisite for citizenship on planet earth to at least recall the melody of “Ode to Joy” or “Fur Elise.” Even those who remain unfamiliar with the phrase “Symphony No. 5” would likely recognize it’s arrangement after hearing five seconds. Beethoven’s cultural relevance continues as the world commemorates what would be his 250th birthday, an occasion to which Z2 Comics rises with The Final Symphony—a career-spanning anthology of graphic literature and music.

Writers Brandon Montclare and Frank Marraffino didn’t select the songs in this anthology to appease Beethoven aficionados. The only real curveballs come in the form of a Max Richter deep cut and a surprising Ezinma remix “Beethoven Pleads the Fifth.” It goes without saying that the graphic novel is the real spotlight of The Final Symphony. While their approach takes a bit of getting used to, Montclare and Marraffino come through with a combination of biography, historiography and adaption to contextualize Beethoven’s work within the era he came up in and illustrate how he influences culture to this day.

The Final Symphony starts with Beethoven on his deathbed, a scene from which stems a framed narrative. He spends the end portion of his life reading the works of his favorite writers, which in turn bring him back to key bricks in the edifice of his life, whether they be Historical upheavals or literary inspirations. While ambitious, and a bit jarring at times, it’s easy to lock in with the book’s order of content: an event in Beethoven’s life, followed by artistic snapshots or life events to go with each song in the anthology (for instance—“Elfenlied – Violin Concerto in D Major”).

Whether it be his abusive childhood, his struggles with hearing loss or his appraisal of Napoléon Bonaparte’s tyrannical war mongering, The Final Symphony expounds upon the obstacles Beethoven overcame over 56 years—along with his relationships with mentor figures like Mozart. However, these portions cover considerably less pages than the literary adaptations. These apply to the book’s supposed purpose in a roundabout way, but it’d be much harder to see the point of their inclusion without the clarifying introductions that accompany each short story.

Even though it’s a cool idea to repurpose the plot of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust to tell a cautionary tale about Napoléon’s lust for power, connecting the story to Beethoven’s own life and worldview requires a preconceived idea of the composer’s views on Napoléon. Granted, the short intros draw parallels between the stories and the composer, but these constant shifts can derail the book’s narrative throughline. The Final Symphony comes off more as a series of memory snippets—but then, this is an anthology, not a biography.

The Final Symphony’s saving grace comes in visual diversity. Selections like Turandot (adapted from a play conceived by Count Gozzi and translated by Friedrich Schiller) and Fidelio (adapted from Beethoven’s only opera) feature art respectively by Alice Meichili and Miki Tsujii. The former’s watercolor flourishes and the latter’s vibrant Manga style provide unique divergences from the more standard art of Patricio Delpeche, who handles the bulk of the art. Delpeche balances symbolic and realistic stylings to provide an interesting perspective on one of history’s most famous musicians.

The music, while likely familiar to the average citizen of planet earth with a functional pair of ears, sounds exquisite on the double vinyl included with the deluxe edition of The Final Symphony. Provided by Deutsche Grammophon, the warmness and dynamic range is something to behold, especially while reading along with the corresponding story—not to mention the fact they’re performed by elite-tier musicians and orchestras. In fact, the musical quality almost goes without saying, leaving the eye-openers for the choices in the graphic novel.

This connection between graphic novel and music becomes more palpable with Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight” and Ezinma’s “Beethoven Pleads the Fifth.” Richter’s minimalist piece coincides with a story about his mentor teaching him the value of simplicity over frivolous technicality, using Beethoven’s music as an example. In the same way, Montclare and Marraffino team up with artist Jarrett Williams to unpack the way Ezinma bridges the gap between classical melodies and contemporary hip-hop production. In both cases, The Final Symphony effectively wraps up by exemplifying the enduring influence of Beethoven’s work.

Few musicians have been more thoroughly researched and eulogized than Beethoven, but The Final Symphony offers a compelling tour through his illustrious career. Replete with literary cross sections and emotional relevance, this graphic novel/vinyl combo is an enjoyable facelift for a true hero of classical music.

Few musicians have been more thoroughly researched and eulogized than Beethoven, but The Final Symphony offers a compelling tour through his illustrious career.
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