Join us for a special literary and musical conversation with Paul Griffiths, the author of Mr. Beethoven, and Alex Ross, the author of Wagnerism.
Shortlisted for the 2020 Goldsmiths Prize, Mr. Beethoven, an inventive, counterfactual work of historical fiction imagines Beethoven traveling to America to write an oratorio based on the Book of Job.
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.
In Northshire Staff Favorite Wagnerism Alex Ross, renowned New Yorker music critic and author of the international bestseller and Pulitzer Prize finalist The Rest Is Noise, reveals how Richard Wagner became the proving ground for modern art and politics—an aesthetic war zone where the Western world wrestled with its capacity for beauty and violence.
For better or worse, Wagner is the most widely influential figure in the history of music. Around 1900, the phenomenon known as Wagnerism saturated European and American culture. Such colossal creations as The Ring of the Nibelung, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal were models of formal daring, mythmaking, erotic freedom, and mystical speculation. A mighty procession of artists, including Virginia Woolf, Thomas Mann, Paul Cézanne, Isadora Duncan, and Luis Buñuel, felt his impact. Anarchists, occultists, feminists, and gay-rights pioneers saw him as a kindred spirit. Then Adolf Hitler incorporated Wagner into the soundtrack of Nazi Germany, and the composer came to be defined by his ferocious antisemitism. For many, his name is now almost synonymous with artistic evil.
Alex Ross has been the music critic of The New Yorker since 1996. His first book, the international bestseller The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a National Book Critics Circle Award. His second book, the essay collection Listen to This, received an ASCAP Deems Taylor Award. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2008 and a Guggenheim Fellow in 2015.
Paul Griffiths is a Welsh novelist, librettist, and music critic. Admired especially for his writings on classical music, he has worked as a critic for major publications such as The Times (London), The New York Times, and The New Yorker. His first novel, Myself and Marco Polo, was published in the UK in 1989 and won the 1990 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. He has published two other novels, The Lay of Sir Tristram and let me tell you, and a collection of short stories, The Tilted Cup, along with books of music history and criticism and several librettos. He lives in the village of Manorbier, Wales.
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