“There is a sort of deranged, Borgesian brilliance in Griffiths’s minute descriptions of music that never existed; and, despite the profound learning underpinning it, the book doesn’t at all smell of the lamp. Like The Tomb Guardians, it goes about its metafictional task in an energetic, supple and highly readable way – and it is beautifully produced.” – Keith Miller, The TLS
In 1823 Beethoven received a commission to write a biblical oratorio in the United States. How could this have worked?*
* As Beethoven wrestles with his muse, and his librettist Rev. Ballou, he comes to rely on two women. Thankful, who conducts his conversations using Martha’s Vineyard sign language, and a kindred spirit: the widow Mrs. Hill. Meanwhile all Boston waits in anxious expectation of a first performance the composer, and the world, will never hear.
Variously admonishing the amateur music society and laughing in the company of his hosts’ children, the immortal composer is brought back to the fullness of life. Griffiths (former music critic: The New Yorker; The New York Times. Author: let me tell you; Modern Music And After) invents only what is strictly possible. His historiography weaves through the text in counterpoint, revealing the fragility of the traces he uses to give Mr. Beethoven seven more years.
Praise for Mr. Beethoven
“The composer winds up in Boston. He brings his time, his temperament and his sense of democracy to us. But he can’t possibly fit in.” – Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times
“Paul stands shoulder to shoulder with the Thomas Mann of Dr. Faustus. Bypassing the eardrum, impressions flash in the mind, leaving traces impossible to distinguish from memories.” – Matthew Gurewitsch, Beyond Criticism
“Mr. Beethoven is a novel about interpretation: about how a writer might go about interpreting the life of one of the most well-known… composers who ever lived, but also about the role interpretation plays in creativity of all kinds. It is also, like much of Griffiths’s work, a riddling, playful, and often very funny investigation of literary form, and a demonstration of the unexpected liberation that can emerge from self-imposed constraints.” – Jon Day, Music & Literature
“What would Beethoven have done with another seven years of life, and where, in the 1830s, might he have gone? The answer, in this audacious but exacting extension of the composer’s late period, is America, where an oratorio, Job, is completed (and performed) in Boston. Suffering and revelation are the subject-matter, but in Paul Griffiths’ hands, the Biblical sorrow undergoes a lasting modulation into a new key of delight in friendship, communication, and creativity.” – Will Eaves
“A ride that compels you to join from the get go. It’s innovative, clever and has surprises at every chapter. This is a ‘what if’ tale like no other.” – Robert Pisani, The Bobsphere
“Where there are multiple interpretations, [Griffiths] explores the alternatives before settling on his choice. It is a bit like watching an organ transplant operation as space is made, the new part inserted and then everything is connected carefully to make it seem like the new organ has always been there.” – Neil, Goodreads
“Few publishers can match HFP’s stratospherically high production standards.” – David Collard