Mr. Beethoven

By Paul Griffiths

A novel by Paul Griffiths asking: What if Beethoven had visited America?

Fiction | Music
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● A fine art debossing of a short Beethoven phrase, arranged by Ping Henningham.
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● A fine art debossing of a short Beethoven phrase, arranged by Ping Henningham.
● Bonus updates documenting the binding process step-by-step. Discover trade secrets from the bindery.
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What if Beethoven had travelled to the United States in their infancy, taking up his commission to write a Biblical oratorio for Boston's Handel and Haydn Society?

'In Griffiths' latest novel... the composer brings his time, his temperament and his sense of democracy to us. But he can’t possibly fit in. The challenge of Beethoven 250 will be to retain a Beethoven who is among us but refuses to fit in.'
- Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

As Beethoven wrestles with his muse, and his librettist, 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 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 invents only what is strictly possible. His historiography weaves through the text in counterpoint, making this also a story about the fragility of the past and the remaining traces of the man: Mr. Beethoven.


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$75  + shipping
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Grand Tier

● A handmade, signed limited edition hardback book. Beautifully litho printed in lilac-grey. Half-bound in Tex-Libris Bastille red and Takeo red. Cover debossed with gloss black and gold design. Interleaved with colour pictures of historiographic sources and extra written material.
● Name listed in the back of the book (time limited - order before 14th March to get your name inside) ● Only 20 available
Choose this reward
  • Paul Griffiths avatar

    Paul Griffiths

    Paul Griffiths is an internationally respected authority on classical music, whose books have been translated into twelve languages. He has worked as a music critic on major publications in London (The Times) and New York (The New York Times, The New Yorker). He received an OBE for services to music literature and composition, and has been honoured also in France (Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) and the United States (Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). His first novel, 'Myself and Marco Polo' (Chatto & Windus), won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1990, and extracts from his third, 'let me tell you' (Reality Street), were made into a song cycle by Hans Abrahamsen in 2013 for Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Griffiths fired the starting pistol on Beethoven 250 with a collaged text commissioned for performance with Beethoven Orchestra Bonn on 16th December 2019.

  • 1 – The Cabin

    “Mr. Beethoven?”

    The person so addressed, lying fully clothed on the narrow bed built into the far side of the small cabin, moved only with the gentle roll of the ship. Eyes and mouth were closed. There was no sound.

    The boy, without stepping forward any further from where he stood at the doorway, his trailing hand still on the brass knob he had lately swivelled open, tried a louder call.

    “Mr. Beethoven?”

    Still nothing. Somebody had informed the boy the previous day, but he had forgotten, that the recumbent body before him never would be made to stir this way, not if he were to yell at the top of his voice, not if he were to sing out lustily in his emerging tenor the master’s "Ode to Joy,” a tune of which, of course, he would have had no inkling.

    What to do? He had been told to accompany the passenger down a deck to the dining saloon, where he would then have to don an apron quickly before serving the cabbage soup and boiled mutton, if these were on the menu for the evening. He could not return empty-handed. Nor could he just stand there; he was already at risk of taking longer over this mission than the steward would have been expecting.

    Could he have misremembered the name? No. The spelling would probably have foxed him, but he could reproduce what he had been told pretty well. Then he thought how stupid it was to imagine that the man lay still asleep only because he had been hailed by the wrong name. Any sound at all should have had him blinking awake. Even the click of the latch.

    The boy did a loud cough, having first raised his hand to his mouth for politeness.

    He took it down – who was watching? – and coughed again. There was still no response, and the boy, with no means to know why this passenger continued to lie so still, felt a cool flush just under his skin. He had witnessed burials at sea, conducted by captains who put on their vicarage voices, captains who stumbled over the sentences, captains who turned sullen for the rest of the voyage.

    He stood there, nothing happening, while down below the other cabin passengers would be looking about them with feigned nonchalance, and the steward would be standing smiling, a napkin over his horizontal left forearm, as if everything were proceeding quite normally, while inwardly the fellow would be calculating how the scale of remonstration would be rising with the this boy’s increasing dilatoriness, hard second on hard second.

    The boy let go the doorknob and took two steps further into the cabin, enough to be standing over the passenger. Behind him the door had closed, so that the cabin was notably dimmer, its only light seeping in through a small porthole. Even so, from this nearer position he could clearly see regular movements in the man’s nostrils and hear a periodic disgruntlement coming through the slightly parted lips. He leaned down close to the ear nearer him, taking care to keep his lips away from the alien flesh, and this time, so as not to alarm, whispered.

    “Mr. Beethoven.”

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