Howard Jay Smith is an acquaintance of mine, not through literature, but our shared love of wine. Sampling vino with a group of regular imbibers at a luncheon, we got to talking about this book. He sent me a copy, and thank goodness for that.
Smith is an award-winning writer and “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139” is his third book, published in 2015. He has taught at UCLA, published numerous short stories and articles, and been an executive with national television outlets working on films, radio and TV projects. He has served on the Santa Barbara Symphony Board of Directors and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.
So much has been written about Beethoven that Smith, early on in his research said: “I quickly grasped that scholars and musicians knew and had preserved a staggering amount of information about Beethoven, so much so that there were few blank spaces to fill in. If I was going to do a novel about such a famous man, I realized that I was going to have to research that life fully and make sure everything I wrote was as accurate as possible. Shaping the novel out of such a full and rich life had little resemblance to my initial notion of finding the blank spaces in his life and creating a fully woven fiction. Instead it was more like chipping away at a giant block of marble to find the essence of his life.”
He chipped well and the essence of Beethoven’s life lies in these pages. The crux of the novel’s setting is Beethoven, at the time of his death, seeking his one moment of joy: “at the moment of his death, Beethoven must find a way to come to peace with all the failings of his life in order to enter Elysium, be rejoined with his Immortal Beloved and find his one moment of joy.”
This is not a quick read. The trials and tribulations we see in Beethoven’s life raise life questions that require the reader’s consideration. That is one of the beauties of this work.
“I would hope then that my readers reflect upon these greater truths and in their own way find their moment of joy, their passion for life and a greater degree of peace and contentment for having gone on this journey with Beethoven,” Smith says.
Another beauty of the book is that the characters are nearly all real-life figures of the history of that time or a time important to Beethoven.
The use of language by Smith is exquisite. As such, it takes you to the place Smith desires to deliver his readers: “I want to transport the reader into a vivid and continuous dream that is so powerful, so all-encompassing that the next thing they know is that someone is calling them to dinner.”
Smith reaches that goal in this work. A glass of wine on your reading table works just fine as an accompanying moment of joy.
All quotes are from an interview with Smith by the Writers Life Magazine that can be found at thewriterslife.blogspot.com.
“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable!” ― Ludwig van Beethoven
Gary Thorne is the play-by-play voice of the Orioles on MASN, and the 2019 season is his 13th with the club and 34th covering Major League Baseball. His blog will appear regularly throughout the season. The Orioles and Sarasota County, for the eighth consecutive year, have partnered on the Big League Reader Program, which rewarded kids who read three books in February with tickets to a Grapefruit League game at Ed Smith Stadium in March.
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