Immortal

By Jessica Duchen

The mystery of Beethoven's lost love – Immortal Beloved.

Monday, 27 July 2020

The proofs are in the pudding

The final edit is done! I am now waiting for the page proofs. This is a scary prospect, because it is too late to change anything substantial. I'm an inveterate tinkerer when it comes to revisions, and especially when so much of the hard graft has been done under tricky circumstances: in lockdown, like so many other people, I have found concentration tough, distraction everywhere, anxieties glooping up about my friends and family in hotspots such as New York and South Africa, and the sheer ache of remembering what else should have been happening now. My phone insists on reminding me again and again that I am meant to fly to Hong Kong tomorrow, and Sydney thereafter. I was going to take the 'Immortal' concert to the Australian Festival of Chamber Music next week...

So this is why revisions are crucial and must be careful. Yet at the same time, it is weirdly easy to overwork things. I printed out the manuscript for the second edit: you can see things on the printed page that are not obvious when you're used to staring at your words on the screen. I also read everything aloud, and I mean everything, because it will show you when something jars. If it doesn't flow, it's got to go.

And yet I made some changes to the printed-out ms that, when I came to input them on the computer later on, I found I did not want to implement after all. They were better the first time round. Less pure, perhaps, but more "real". 

Meanwhile, what's left of the music industry is busy Beethovening as much as it can. A three-part series on BBC4 entitled 'Being Beethoven', with Peter Capaldi as the voice of Ludwig, is well worth watching, but frustrating for me on a few counts. How many times have I heard the words "Beethoven did not write much music in 1817" - but there's no reference to the effect of the external circumstances. 1817 was a fearful year, following Napoleon's return from Elba in 1815, the ensuing battles in which dozens of thousands were killed just when everyone had thought it was all over, and the chronic failure of two harvests, one under the malign influence of a cloud of volcanic ash from Indonesia. They called 1817 'the year of the beggers', there was a terrible famine across Europe and there was a typhus epidemic. So, no, Beethoven didn't write a whole lot of music that year, and can you blame him? This is exactly my objection to the ghettoisation of classical music in its little detached bubble. It's intimately connected to everything that is happening in the world around it, because it's a human creation and it cannot help but be so. Oh, and they got their princes in a twist. It was Lichnowsky who gave Beethoven his first stipend, not Lobkowitz. Apart from that, it's great - do take a look it.

Today, somewhere, there is likely to be a great composer sitting in his/her study trying to work, but having to homeschool the kids, spend hours waiting on the phone trying to arrange a bank loan to make sure the family can eat, writing furious letters to their MP about how the furlough scheme has not included them and they have no income at all, and wondering if a note of their music will ever be heard in a concert hall again. And someday a biographer (assuming we still have them) will say something like: "XYZ was experiencing a fallow period in 2020 and it can all be traced back to his/her relationship with his/her father."

I'm sure you get my drift. I'll shut up now and leave you in peace. I'm trying to get ahead on other work before the proofs arrive...

Keep well, keep safe and keep listening to Beethoven.

Love and best wishes,

Jessica x

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