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A well-publicized 1994 Sotheby's auction listed, among other musical artifacts and ephemera on the block, a lock of Beethoven's hair. The high-bidders of the hair, two Beethoven enthusiasts, were easy enough to identify by their oddball names: one was a doctor named Che Guevara, the other a retired real estate developer named Ira Brilliant. But the real story, as author Russell Martin attempts to explain in this book, is how did the lock end up on the auction block? More important, can we learn anything from a 175-year-old snippet of hair? Somehow, author Russell Martin attempts to weave biographical information about Beethoven's life with scientific findings about his hair (the two buyers had the lock DNA-tested), as well as trace the path the hair took, from the great composer's head right into the present.
It's a tall order and one at which Martin partially succeeds. His facts about Beethoven and Ferdinand Hiller (the original keeper of the lock) are solid, but he hypothesizes at length about how the hair ended up in a small port town in Denmark during the Nazi occupation. Likewise, he spends nearly the entire second half of the book describing the lives of Guevara and Brilliant, occasionally sounding more like a press agent than a journalist. Subtitled "An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Musical Mystery Solved," Beethoven's Hair doesn't truly solve any musical mysteries, but it is a fascinating, original read for Beethoven-philes who want to learn a little bit more about their favorite composer. --Jason Verlinde [via]