Believing even now, even now, in the divine in all that live.
Evening: holding in one hand, in the low light, the Bible? Goethe?
Engaging all, in what will belong to all.
The thought that thought would be audible without language.
Heaving along an avenue in Vienna, unbuttoned to the wind.
Obedient to nothing and no-one but the need to give.
Validating a note – H, not B! – in the Ninth in a new edition.
Ending alone, within that head (“allein! allein! allein!”) – and with what?
Not being able to hea–

                                                             --Paul Griffiths

Beethoven: his life in 160 words 


Born in Bonn, probably December 16, 1770. Dad was a bully, so the boy replaced him as his music teacher with Chris Neefe. Published at 13. Avoided home. Went to Vienna. Met Joe Haydn, took what he could, moved on. Caught the attention of a prince. Turned 30. Wrote a symphony. Hard of hearing at 32. Which sucked. Conducted orchestras nonetheless. Wrote more symphonies. String quartets, piano concertos and so on. A violin concerto (one). Hung out with an archduke, but couldn’t hear much so holed up at home and became very grumpy. Wrote a manifesto for his brothers and a love letter to someone but didn’t send it. A lifelong virgin? Possibly. (Probably.) Settled in and--totally deaf--wrote music that changed music--changed everything--forever. Wrote an opera (one). Revised it. Etc. Drank and smoked. Got sick. Tried to kidnap his cute nephew. Failed. Got really sick. Kept composing. Music wilder and wilder. Died. 56. Best composer ever. Kicked ass. Immortal. But unhappy. 




Paul Griffiths’s astonishing novel Mr. Beethoven, to be published by New York Review  Books in October 2021, imagines that the composer lived a few more years, long enough to fulfill the commission for an oratorio he received from the Handel & Haydn Society of Boston. In the following chapter, he speaks to the members of the chorus just before the first performance. His words, as throughout the book, are taken from his letters.



The Composer’s Address to the Chorus

All hail to this rabble!

I am so very fond of you all, and why should I not confess it?

I need hardly tell you that I feel greatly honored by this commission. Many thanks for your efforts.

Well now, let me just give you a brief outline of what is most necessary.

I have nothing pleasant to tell you about myself. I can well believe that my strange behavior has startled you – I am not apologizing for it. No doubt the very bad weather is partly responsible for my condition. Formerly I used to be able to make all my other circumstances subservient to my art. I admit, however, that by so doing I became a bit crazy.

Gradually there comes to us the power to express just what we desire and feel – but how difficult is that for me! Perhaps the only touch of genius which I possess is that my things are not always in very good order….

Forgive the trouble I am giving you. The tempo has been marked in pencil. Please do not forget it.

One thing more. Continue to raise yourself higher and higher into the divine realm of art. For there is no more undisturbed, more unalloyed or purer pleasure than that which comes from such an experience. Unfortunately we are dragged down from the supernatural element in art only too rudely into the earthly and human sides of life. It is a pity that this must be so, but that is all we can do. In this matter I shall remain true to my principles until I die.

And the conclusion? It should be as loud as possible. That is absolutely necessary. There must be no hesitation whatever about this. I know for certain that you will remember this.

Nothing else is required.

Make use of all these facts – I wish you every success.