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.]

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Beethoven xi: "making music"

 There is a photograph of me when I was eight or so, sitting on one of the upper stairs in our house and looking down at the hall, through the vertical bars of the banister. My open and rather serious face suggests that I was interrupted in the midst of listening to the music from downstairs, for my unpredictable older brother had just snapped a picture of me with his frequent clicks and flashes. A moment before, I had been listening to my father playing second violin in his weekly Friday night string quartet in Los Angeles (this evening in our living room).

One of Haydn’s scores of quartets and then one of Mozart’s nearly a dozen quartets were usually played by the four musicians, and the evening would often conclude with one of Beethoven’s six opus 18 quartets or one of the three from opus 59 (though sometimes one by Schubert or, if they were feeling ambitious, one by Brahms). Particularly Beethoven’s early quartets, opus 18, published when the composer was thirty, were a source of great pleasure to the players, usually two or three skilled amateurs including my father, and one or two professionals. I loved to listen from my perch in the hall stairwell to the four men “making music” – it was as if I were privileged to witness the process of building or sculpting or painting a masterpiece.

“Making music” is the phrase my father used, and it’s particularly relevant to Beethoven and especially significant for the early period chamber works and piano sonatas. One of the ideas I hope to develop in my Beethoven project is the idea that the performers of his sonatas and quartets, etc., feel as if they are participating in the construction of the piece, the working out of motifs, the resolution of tensions, the upwellings of feeling: in short, we feel we are participating with Beethoven in making the music – the phrase which the philosopher Barthes employed for this experience is “musica practica.” This phenomenon is distinct from the sometimes virtuosic displays of professional musicians; it is rather to feel one is actively in touch with the unfolding form of the music. When I play through a Beethoven sonata or when my father and his musician friends played a Beethoven quartet, the experience seems like that of a sort of co-creator. Why this should be the case particularly with Beethoven is the question I will try to explore.
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