The Ninth, By Harvey Sachs

Both a writer and a conductor, Sachs registers the huge shock achieved by a composer who in his final years had his "big-calibre artillery aimed at the future".

Times to come would marvel at the epic fireburst of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. But to much of the Viennese music scene in 1824, the mad eccentric had committed an unholy din.

Sachs paints in all the local colour but broadens the artistic backdrop. So the Ninth takes its European place as "a paradigm of both freedom and joy", framed by the icons of Romantic rebellion.

And he gives a virtuoso 30-page account of what happens in Beethoven's blockbuster from first bar to last. Sachs's colourful prose deepens a lay listener's grasp without ever evaporating into whimsy.