New novel by classical critic Paul Griffiths imagines Beethoven in Boston

Posted on: October 26, 2021

In the early 1820s, “Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, made an overture to Beethoven through a connection in Vienna. The Society wished to commission the great composer to produce a biblical oratorio that would premiere in Boston,” writes Michael Patrick Brady in Sunday’s (10/24) Boston Globe. “Busy finishing his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven never responded…. Had he accepted, however, it’s conceivable that Beethoven might have crossed the ocean … to hear his latest composition performed for the very first time. For Paul Griffiths, novelist, librettist, and one-time music critic for both The New Yorker and The New York Times, this counterfactual premise is too good to pass up. In his latest book, ‘Mr. Beethoven,’ he imagines the composer … crafting an oratorio based on the Book of Job, all while hobnobbing with the upper crust of 19th-century Boston. The result is a novel of great wit and empathy, one that provides a deep insight into the composition of both classical music and historical literature through playful, inventive prose…. Griffiths makes ample use of the available primary sources, biographies, and musical analyses to create both his character and a fictional oratorio that fits in with the composer’s oeuvre.”