Additional Book Information
Series: New York Review Books
Publication Date: October 26, 2021
It is a matter of historical record that in 1823 the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston (active to this day) sought to commission Beethoven to write an oratorio. The premise of Paul Griffiths’s ingenious novel is that Beethoven accepted the commission and traveled to the United States to oversee its first performance. Griffiths grants the composer a few extra years of life and, starting with his voyage across the Atlantic and entry into Boston Harbor, chronicles his adventures and misadventures in a new world in which, great man though he is, he finds himself a new man. Relying entirely on historically attested possibilities to develop the plot, Griffiths shows Beethoven learning a form of sign language, struggling to rein in the uncertain inspiration of Reverend Ballou (his designated librettist), and finding a kindred spirit in the widowed Mrs. Hill, all the while keeping his hosts guessing as to whether he will come through with his promised composition. (And just what, the reader also wonders, will this new piece by Beethoven turn out to be?) The book that emerges is an improvisation, as virtuosic as it is delicate, on a historical theme.
The great composer pays a visit to Boston in this high-concept novel about Old World musical genius and emerging American society....Stylistically rich and thoughtfully conceived historical fiction.
—Kirkus, starred review
Paul Griffiths’s Mr. Beethoven is a novel about interpretation: about how a writer might go about interpreting the life of one of the most well-known—and well-chronicled—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.
—Jon Day, Music and 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.
A formidable display of fantasy scholarship.
—Fiona Maddocks, The Guardian