Beethoven Variations by Ruth Padel
A fascinating poetic journey into the mind and heart of a musical genius, from the author of the best-selling Darwin: A Life in Poems. Ruth Padel’s new sequence of poems, in four movements, is a personal voyage through the life and legend of one of the world’s greatest composers. She uncovers the man behind the music, charting his private thoughts and feelings through letters, diaries, sketchbooks, and the conversation books he used as his hearing declined. She gives us Beethoven as a battered four-year-old, weeping at the clavier; the young virtuoso pianist agonized by his encroaching deafness; the passionate, heartbroken lover; the clumsy eccentric making coffee with exactly sixty beans. Padel’s quest takes her into the heart of Europe and back to her own musical childhood: Her great-grandfather, who studied in Leipzig with a pupil of Beethoven’s, became a concert pianist before migrating to Britain; her parents met making music; and Padel grew up playing the viola, Beethoven’s instrument as a child. Her book is a poet and string player’s intimate connection across the centuries with an artist who, though increasingly isolated, ended even his most harrowing works on a note of hope.