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Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America” –  and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.

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Would you call yourself a born writer?

Yes.  My very first short story about piloting a Cessna – about half a page long – was written when I was in elementary school.  And I got my first rave reviews!

I wrote all though High School and college, everything from the school paper to newspapers.  Even myy Master’s thesis was a draft of a novel about the social upheavals of the late 60’s and an accompanying teaching guide.

In my mid 20’s I was fortunate enough to be accepted as a Scholar several times into Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf Conference where I met the late novelist, John Gardner.  John became my mentor and over the next few years I returned to Bread Loaf as a scholar a total of three times. There I worked with other greats of that era, John Irving, Toni Morrison and Tim O’Brien. I also studied with John back in DC and Virginia. Gardner was hands down the best teacher I have ever had for any subject ever.  It was through my work with him that I found my essential voice and truly began my career as a writer.

My first book John Gardner: An Interview was published way back in 1979 by the now defunct New London Press. The best surprise was walking into a bookstore in Middlebury, Vermont, one summer and seeing it on the shelves and for sale.  Wow!

I was a three time winner of the Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellowships. My short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications.

After publishing a dozen or so short stories in literary magazines, I headed west to what I imagined were the greener pastures of Hollywood and screenplay writing. I was a top writing Fellow at the American Film Institute.  After graduation from that program I worked as a Film and Television executive at ABC-TV, Embassy TV and Academy Home Entertainment while also beginning a career as a screenwriter. I wrote over thirty screenplays and worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects.

Much of my career work has been related to not only writing, but business and finance. I have always been described as one of those “Left Brain – Right Brain,” kind of guys who goes back and forth between these two worlds.

The publisher of my second, Opening the Doors to Hollywood, was Random House. It was a non-fiction work based on film and writing classes I taught at UCLA.  We had great distribution through bookstores nationally and it was again, a great kick to walk into a bookstore and to not only find it on the shelves but to also be asked for autographs.  That book sold in excess of fifteen-thousand copies but the profits were all gobbled up by Random House in shipping and distribution costs.

My experience in both finance and writing about musicians led me to the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America,” – where I now serve on the Executive Board of Directors and head up their Development and Planned Giving Committees.

What was your inspiration for Beethoven in Love; Opus 139?

When I came across the story of Beethoven’s death — how at his last moment a bolt of lightning strikes the side of his building, rousing him from a coma; his eyes open, he sits up right, he shakes his fist at the heavens and then collapses back to the bed and is abruptly gone — I found the contrast to my own near death experience stunning.

When I was not yet twenty-one and going to school overseas in Singapore, I had a severe motorcycle accident. As my body somersaulted through the intersection, time stopped and a great and profound sense of peace and tranquility suffused my consciousness.  Fear, especially that fear of death we all share, disappeared.  My biggest surprise was landing very much alive – and in pain – on the other side of the crossroads and not the “other side” of life.

Beethoven’s death throes were so different from my calm transition.  That led me to wonder what it would have taken for this great man to come to peace with all the turmoil and failings of his life – and there were many.  In that nugget of a thought, Beethoven in Love; Opus 139, was born. Although those injuries still ache decades later – especially when it rains – researching and then writing this novel was an absolute joy.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

As one of the characters Beethoven encounters on the road to paradise proudly proclaims, “What is a novel but a collection of lies we tell to reveal greater truths?”

As a working professional writer, screenwriter, teacher and TV executive for almost four decades, I am always on the lookout for great stories of historical figures where my potential protagonist wrestles with the same types of profound emotional or psychological issues that each and every one of us can relate to in our own lives.

For all his creative genius, Beethoven was a flawed man who led a troubled life.  In my novel we explore the depths of that love and pain.  At the moment of his death, in his last seconds of conscious, Beethoven raised his fist and shook it at his Creator.  Did he demand to know why it is, that he, whose hearing once surpassed all others in sensitivity and degree had been cast out as history’s cruel joke, a deaf composer who was also denied the comforts of family and the affections of his Immortal Beloved?

In that last tick of the clock, our Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him one final wish… One day, just one day of pure joy in her arms.   Thus begins a spiritual journey to the borders of Elysium, where Beethoven re-experience each of those precious moments. He struggles to come to peace not only with all the failings of his life but to also to find solace in the embrace of his Immortal Beloved.  Will he succeed?

“Your love makes me at once both the happiest and the unhappiest of men. . . Love me today, yesterday . . . . What tearful longings for you, you, you. My life, my all. Farewell. Never cease to love me. Never misjudge this most faithful heart of your beloved. Ever yours . . . Ever mine . . . Ever ours. . . .”

Thus concludes one of the most famous love notes in history; Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” letter written to a mysterious and as yet unknown woman. Not only did he fail to address her by name, he further baffled music historians by simply dating the letter, July 7th, leaving off the year. Outside of Beethoven’s actual music, there is more speculation about the women in his life than anything else.

So who was this woman, this Immortal Beloved, that has been the focus of such fevered study in the nearly 190 years since his death in 1827, when a copy of the letter was found in his apartment by accident alone?

Will we ever know her true identity and give this woman her due?  Was she a married aristocrat with whom he had an affair? Or a childhood sweetheart he longed to see once again? Or was she even the mother of a child he never knew?

Speculation is rife, even today, when the descendants of over a dozen women, including the dedicatee of the “Moonlight Sonata,” claim him as their own.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

Researching and then writing this novel was a five year long journey, every moment of which was an absolute pleasure.  I learned ages ago that if you want someone to take the time and effort to read your book and find your work compelling and engaging, you must also be equally passionate about what you create. I absolutely love the entire process of crafting a story, from jotting down ideas and doing research when necessary, to shaping each line, each paragraph, each character, each scene. 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. So my first advice to any other would be writer is this: love what you are doing and let that passion be your motor or you will most-likely fail.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

I find it very easy to write – provided I have something to say – which is not always the case. As a lifelong writer I have learned many things about myself.  The first of which is that I am always thinking about writing – and that is important.  I often see the world around me in terms of story.  True writing is the expression of concrete ideas about the nature of our lives and the spaces in the world we inhabit.  The second lesson is that one doesn’t always have to have a focus or a particular thought about what to say.  That’s dream time and dream time is critical to allowing ones creativity to jell.

Even in the middle of a long project, a screenplay or a novel, I spend a fair amount of time just visualizing and reflecting on what it is I want to say, how I want to say it, what it will look and feel like when it’s written and how will it come off to a reader. I will often try to work on an idea as I am falling asleep, trusting my instincts so much so that when I wake I know the essential idea will be there.

When I actually sit at my desk and write, I can go for hours – provided again, I know what I am going to say.  I put on music – relevant if possible to what I am working on – and use it to mask the outside world. I will go on until I’m exhausted and drained.

I am also about getting in the rhythm of what I am doing. If I am in the middle of a book, I will usually go backwards to a somewhat more polished chapter and do a bit of reading and re-writing until I go to the new section.  I will work on the new section until drained.  I shut down then and then resume the dream time process.  While contemplating the next section I am equally at home working in the garden, chopping wood or going for a walk.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

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.

My initial thought upon coming up with this notion about Beethoven being forced to review the failings of his life by his “Ghost of Christmas Past,” before he could pass on to Elysium or paradise, was to read a single biography, find the empty or white spaces in his life that we did not know much about and then create a totally fictional story. After reading one biography, 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.

My personal dilemma was this: All of my mentors from my early years as a writer, John Irving, Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison and the late John Gardner, all won National Book Awards or some similar accolade.  When I committed myself to doing a Beethoven novel, I knew there were two hurdles I had to overcome in order to be successful. First I would need to thoroughly research everything about his life and times and be exceedingly accurate or risk being shredded by historians and critics in the music world.  Given the enormous amount of material on his life, including dozens of major biographies, six volumes of letters as well as his diaries – not to mention his music – I was initially daunted by the scope and size of what I had taken on.  I decided not to proceed unless the quality of the writing line by line was at a level that those mentors would have approved.

Feeling the weight of their teachings upon me, I committed myself to doing everything necessary to research not only Beethoven’s life, but the life and times of his family, friends, and lovers and of the entire Napoleonic era, no matter how long it took. And then and only then would I write a novel based on that research that could stand up to the weight of any critic or criticism.

I spent nearly two full years researching before writing a single word of fiction. I built a chronological outline that ran over two hundred pages itself. I read all the major biographies; all the volumes of letters to and from Beethoven; I read his diaries and first-hand accounts of his life compiled by his friends. I listened to endless hours of his music. I studied the history of the times, from Voltaire and the French Revolution to the spas of Central Europe and the life of Napoleon – whose ghost plays a central role in the novel.

I read each book at least three times: the first to get a general sense of its content; the second to highlight specific notes (don’t even ask how many yellow highlighters or sticky notes I went through); and the third to transfer key information to my outline. If Beethoven or Napoleon referenced a philosophical text, such as the Bhagavad Gita or the works of Confucius, I would read those as well. I had majored in Asian Studies as an undergrad, so that aspect came easily to me. I should note that the influence of Asian philosophy on Beethoven is unmistakable if one reads his diaries and letters, yet it is one area that musicologists generally miss not having any exposure to Eastern thought. His quotes go right over their heads.

Furthermore every character except for three minor but important ones, is an actual historical figure. I researched them as well.  And of those minor characters, one is inspired by my friendship with the now deceased novelist, John Gardner, and the other two are an homage to my own family’s East European history that I stumbled upon doing my research. I even learned that Napoleon, on his retreat from Moscow, passed through a tiny village in Belarus, the village my maternal grandparents are from, and that critical events in the war took place there.

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.

When I was nearly done with a first polished draft, I began showing it around to my friends in the writing community and to a one, their response was, “Yes, you’re there.”  Since that time, the reviews from critics in the literary world, the music world and more specifically, the world of Beethoven scholars and devotees has been wonderful – and gratifying. In fact my first public reading was for a gathering of Beethoven scholars at the American Beethoven Society’s Thirtieth Anniversary Conference.  There I was, reading a work of fiction to the very people who knew more about Beethoven than anyone, and, thankfully, they loved it.

What do you love most about being an author?

Researching and then writing this novel was a long journey, every moment of which was an absolute pleasure.  I learned ages ago that if you want someone to take the time and effort to read your book and find your work compelling and engaging, you must also be equally passionate about what you create. I absolutely love the entire process of crafting a story, from jotting down ideas and doing research when necessary, to shaping each line, each paragraph, each character, each scene. 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. So my first advice to any other would be writer is this: love what you are doing and let that passion be your motor or you will most-likely fail.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

My friend and fellow writer, Russell Martin, author of the non-fiction bestseller, Beethoven’s Hair, also runs a small independent press, SYQ.  The publisher of my previous book, Opening the Doors to Hollywood, was Random House. It was however not only a non-fiction work based on film and writing classes I taught at UCLA, it was also a long time ago.  After a number of attempts to reach out to literary agents and other publishers, I realized that the publishing world had vastly changed since Opening the Doors to Hollywood was released.  Every agent I spoke with wanted either a celebrity driven piece or an easily commoditized book of 250 pages.  Beethoven in Love; Opus 139 is neither. I ultimately decided to go with SYQ and found the process much more to my liking.  I was involved and had control over every aspect of the process, including the layout, design and cover.  I should add that the cover art was done by my son, Zak Smith, a well-known artist in his own right with five published books and paintings hanging in eight museums around the world.

The first five years I spent researching and writing “Beethoven In Love; Opus 139,” were clearly the creative side.  Once done though I switched gears and treated the printing, marketing and sales of the book as a business proposition.  What good is it if you write a great novel but no one reads it?  I focused on marketing and treated the costs and time spent as one would a business start-up, imagining that it would take a while to recoup those expenses.

Clearly publishing and bookselling are industries that has been radically transformed by the web. Once I committed to a small press, I knew we had to maximize the use of electronic mediums to generate real business.  The old models didn’t work and I don’t think anyone has figured out the very best methods to deal with the new reality just yet.  Understanding that world remains a work in progress.

Recalling my experience with Random House where the profits were gobbled up by shipping, SYQ and I decided to limit sales to online outlets such as Amazon.  We created a large web and Facebook presence and then hired a publicist to promote the book to national newspapers and radio stations.  In the first few months following the release I did a lot of public readings and interviews on radio, in print, on podcasts and through the web.

One of the beauties of a book about Beethoven is that I was able to target diverse markets through Facebook. We focused not only the world of book readers and clubs but also to the music world and have had a fair amount of success in both those realms.

I have also performed in numbers of classical music venues in conjunction with soloists, small ensembles and even a full orchestra and choir.  The musicians would perform Beethoven’s compositions and I would read related selections from the book. In fact my first public reading was for a gathering of Beethoven scholars at the American Beethoven Society’s Thirtieth Anniversary Conference.  There I was, reading a work of fiction to the very people who knew more about Beethoven than anyone, and, thankfully, they loved it.

Now I not only have a following of devoted fans all over the world, I have also made a number of connections with the descendants of some of the true-life characters in the novel, such as the great grandson five generations removed of the woman, Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom Beethoven dedicated the Moonlight Sonata and is one of the women consider as a candidate to be his mysterious Immortal Beloved.

All of these activities feed into daily Facebook posts and Tweets and those in turn have driven sales.

Not everything however has gone as smoothly as desired. There are no road maps yet in what is still uncharted territory. For the better part of the past year, I have often felt like I am being forced to re-invent the wheel. My first publicist was a very traditional book publicist from Hollywood who has a client list of many famous writers – but in this new reality she was of limited actual help and very expensive.  I have since moved on to a publicist from the 21st century who understands the web and the results have been vastly superior.

In the end, though I have sold fewer copies than when I was with Random House, my personal return on investment has been much greater. Once a book is actually printed or put out electronically, one must be committed to spending both the time and dollars necessary on marketing. You can’t do it half way and expect good results.  It takes total commitment and effort.

Where can we find you on the web?

I have a webpage:  www.BeethovenInLoveOpus139.com

A dedicated Facebook Page for the book:  https://www.facebook.com/BeethovenInLoveOpus139/

And a Twitter Page: https://twitter.com/BeethovenOp139

 

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beethoven-in-love

Title: BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139
Author: Howard Jay Smith
Publisher: SYQ
Pages: 385
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction

At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.

As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.

Purchase Information:

Amazon

First Chapter

Prologue:

The Death of Beethoven

Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827

Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.

Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf Uhr. Five O’clock.

Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment.

Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.

Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness.

Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.

His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone…

Chapter One:

Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est

Applaud My Friends, the Comedy is Over

By all accounts my funeral was a grand success.

Despite the snow and slush soaking through their shoes, all Vienna turns out. Twenty thousand mourners or more, accompanied by the Imperial Guards, guide the grieving to my grave. Streets crowded, impassable. My coffin, lined with silk, covered in flowers, rolls through the chaos on a horse drawn bier. Paupers and princes; merchants and mendicants; menials and musicians; clerics and commoners; they all come for this, their Beethoven’s final concerto.

As if they ever owned me or my music…

Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est. Applaud my friends, the comedy are over. Inscribed herein rests my final opus.

Ja. Yes, they are all patrons and lovers… Lovers of my music, the very music the gods have forbidden me to hear. How cruel. To suffer my last decade without sound – any sound except the incessant surge of blood pounding through my veins – an eternity inscribed on the calendar pages of my life.

And so it is, these celebrants, anxious for one last encore, crowd the alleys and streets of the Hapsburgs capital in throngs not seen since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Grande Armee oh so many years ago.

The cortege rolls on past the taverns and cafés of this fair city where dark beer, schnitzel and sausages reward the day. Ah, the saints and sinners of Vienna have always loved a good party, never mind the excuse.

Are they singing? Alle Menschen werden Brüder. All men will become brothers. They must be, yet I hear nothing.

I wonder if she is among them. My muse; my love; my passion; my sacred fire; will she be there to safeguard my voyage through Elysium?

Or is she too denied me as was the sweet sighs of love and the embrace of family stolen by gods capricious and uncaring? Are they so vengeful? So embittered by spite? Like Prometheus, have I dared too close to revelations reserved for them alone?

The clouds grow ever darker, ominous.

Must I embrace death silently ere my last symphony suffuses the stage? Is this my end? To be cast out as by our Creator as history’s cruel joke, a deaf musician? A composer unable to know the vibrancy of his own scores?

Tell me why your Beethoven, your servant whose hearing once surpassed all others in sensitivity and degree, must suffer such humiliation and torment?

Are the crowds laughing? Ja oder nein? Yes or no. I know not. Am I such a failure, such a disgrace to be shoved off the stage without your mercy or compassion?

As surely as the warmth of summer vanishes and the leaves of autumn crumble beneath the crush of winter, has all hope been stolen? Can I escape this fate? What path must I travel? What tasks of redemption are to be mine and mine alone?

Come death; am I to meet your shadow with courage? Must I depart in this winter of anguish before the renewal of spring?

Can I not find release from this cycle of sufferings like a saint or a Hindoo holy man following the dance of Shiva or a Bodhisattva, back bent upon the path of the great Buddha?

The last echoes of joy inside my heart are already fading. Will I never hear or feel those vibrations again? Never? Nein. Forever. Lost for eternity in the fog on the road to Elysium; that is too hard, too harsh.

But surely a loving father must dwell in the starry canopy above. Are you there, oh sweet Isis, my goddess of compassion? Help me, help guide me.

Please Providence; grant me this, my final wish… Grant but one day, just one day, one day of pure joy to your poor Beethoven.

Is this too much to ask before I embrace darkness forever? Oh, to be in her arms once again.

About the Author

howard-j-smith-2

Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America” – and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK

INTERVIEW BOOK CIRCLE ONLINE AT YOUTUBE

INTERVIEW BLOGTALK RADIO

 

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