About the arts and ideas - on my novels and literature, music, and art

A new book about Beethoven gathers together (and completely rewrites and supplements) my blog posts on Beethoven into a short introduction to the composer, Ways of Hearing Beethoven, which I hope to see published. My novel The Fall of the Berlin Wall, completed a year ago, is about musicians and particularly the intense, irrepressible daughter of the legendary pianist featured in my previous novel Hungry Generations, now fifteen years after those events. Five years ago, my 2015 novel, The Ash Tree, was published by West of West Books in conjunction with the April 24, 2015 centenary of the Armenian genocide; it's about an Armenian-American family and the sweep of their history in the twentieth century - particularly from the points of view of two women in the family.
There are three other novels of mine, which I would love to see published. One is Pathological States, about a physician's family in L.A. in 1962. Another is Hungry Generations, about a young composer's friendship in L.A. with the family of a virtuoso pianist, published on demand by iUniverse, which I think would be of value to a conventional publisher. A Burnt Offering - a fable (a full rewriting and expansion of my earlier Acts of Terror and Contrition - a nuclear fable) is my political novella about Israel and its reactions to the possibility of a war with Iran (with the fear that it will be a nuclear war).
[My blog posts are, of course, copyrighted.]

Monday, February 27, 2012

Beethoven x - as a Shakespearean figure

I tried in my novel Hungry Generations to evoke Beethoven’s perspective on the creative process and on what his creativity might suggest about how we lead our lives (if you wish, click on the Amazon.com site at top of the right column). The novel’s protagonist, Jack Weinstein, is a young composer starting out in a Hollywood studio in 1972 yet devoted to writing serious classical music, and I have him visited by occasional fantasies in which his heroes appear – Schoenberg, Bartok, Stravinsky (the “three bald geniuses”) and especially Beethoven. In writing the few sequences in which Beethoven appears, I liberally and distortedly quote from Beethoven’s own words, and I lace into his comments to Jack a fair number of (pertinent, expressive) echoes of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”  

Here is one sequence from the novel:

The three bald geniuses danced from the raw, gray daylight into the living room. Even the Viennese Jew, serious and aloof, smiled at what Jack played. The thin Russian said: “This is true drunkard's music, yes! Surpassing even the drinking songs of my Hungarian colleague there, sneering in the shadow. It's like the peasant dances I knew as a child; I will illustrate.” He danced and shouted to Jack's wavering beat, stomping his feet, jutting his legs like a Cossack straight out in air, stumbling, and brushing against Beethoven who roared into the room. He glared at the wispy, dancing Russian as short as himself. Karl Beethoven flickered at the door, looking like his uncle's son, the eyes blinking and shifting, even more possessed, a criminal's eyes. His uncle had seen enough and walked toward the piano.

Jack rose from the bench and edged to the table, where he sat before his new notebook, transfixed with alarm and pain and wonder.

Sitting at the piano before the inked sonata pages, Beethoven had an aura of tangled, electric hair sticking out from his head. He hunched before the keys and began to play loud and unhesitating. Obscenities flowed from his lips, snatches of Italian, Russian, Hungarian, and German. His eyes were fixed on Jack's score, and his hands pounded everything, playing wrong notes, extending and further distorting allusions to his own sonatas. The pale Hungarian sat again at the end of the table, the Russian on the couch, the Viennese Jew on the stuffed chair.

At Scherzo's end, Beethoven began to play a wavering snatch of his last sonata, opus 111, the opening of the Arietta. Suddenly he stopped and swung on the piano bench to face them.

“Our whole disassembly present?” he said, bitterly eyeing his nephew who sat on a straight-backed chair he had taken from the table to a corner, between the front door and the entry to the kitchen. Karl frowned there, hang-dog and accusative, looking at them all with punishing resentment.

“See my nephew Karl. I love him like a son, and he hates me. But I know I demand and impose. I am an ass. Write that down,” he said bitterly, and he pointed imperiously to the 1973 journal, its first page open on the table in front of Jack. “Write me down an ass! Write me down an ass-hole! It doesn't matter.” His voice was hoarse and loud with words he could not hear. “What matters is that we seek eternity, that we are condemned to everlasting redemption.”

Against the wind, Jack slowly shepherded himself across Speedway, across the Venice beach, to the shifting sand at the edge of the Pacific. His jacket flew open, and the wind buffeted him. Alone, he faced the dancing wind-driven waves and the wide current eddying far out in the frenzied ocean.

The eloquent irony of being “condemned to everlasting redemption” (this is Shakespeare’s good-willed fool Dogberry’s malaprop phrase) is central to the ambiguities of leading a difficult, even harmed life yet being devoted in music to “seeking eternity.” In my novel, then, I tried briefly to render the character of the disabled Beethoven as a self-aware creator, demanding of others and above all of himself. [The above excerpt is found on pages 88-89 of Hungry Generations; Beethoven makes another Shakespeare-aided appearance on pages 152-3 of the novel.] To get to the Amazon.com page for the novel, click on the cover image at the top of the right column.

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