You probably all know by now that I am excited about Beethoven 2020, the 250th anniversary celebration of Beethoven’s birth. (Google it: BTHVN2020!) I asked myself today what would the great man have thought of all this global hullabaloo? I think he might have loudly mocked us, hopefully not rail at us for the way we play his music, but I also think he would love it.
As part of my enjoyment of this celebration, I have set myself a New Year’s Resolution to read lots about Beethoven and select a different genre of his works each month to listen to. January is about symphonies; February will be the piano sonatas; and so on. I have no intention of listening to everything he wrote! I’ll let myself pick and choose, and really seek to acquaint myself with each piece through multiple hearings by multiple artists.
I am currently reading American composer and author Jan Swafford’s Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph, which is really marvelous and really long. I am at page 268 of 936 and channeling the Little Engine that Could. But despite its intimidating length, I enjoy every page.
I also have on my nightstand a mercifully shorter work I cannot wait to start: Conversations with Beethoven, a work of fiction by Sanford Friedman. I have peeked into it and think he had a brilliant and strangely moving idea. When Beethoven became deaf he had people write whatever they wanted to say to him in “conversation books.” Friedman has re-created those conversations based on the actual people close to Beethoven in his last months.
The entire novel is designed so you read what, for example, his nephew Karl or one of Beethoven’s doctors writes in their side of a conversation, and then there is a blank space where we get to infer what Beethoven’s spoken response would be.
On the one hand, it is an exercise in imagination, but in another way, it is almost as if we ourselves are deaf; we cannot hear his voice. I can only sense his anger, impatience, and fear; his tenderness, longing, and immense fortitude in those blank spaces. It is a very emotional experience for me.
Now, in all honesty, I have never made a New Year’s Resolution that I have kept, so please help me by occasionally asking me where I am with my resolution. Even more, I hope you will share with me your own insights on Beethoven and what he means to you.