Beethoven Variations: Poems on a Life
An approach to Beethoven by way of precisely figured emotion. Two lives drawn beneath the lens, the composer's and her own, interacting in ways that can be bold and, finally, breathtaking. On the Eroica, she is spectacular. The composer is "fire-dust, gold-flight /winching upwards into pure light" as he drives "forward into a new-world dawn /thrilling with dissonance, calling up wild-steel angels" - Paul Griffiths, Times Literary Supplement
‘Absolutely gorgeous poems, beautifully written, full of wonderful imagery. She has a marvellous way of surprising you with hindsight, atmosphere and context. I think it’s an absolute masterpiece, I love it to pieces.’ - Jessica Duchen, novelist and music critic, Best Books on Beethoven
‘Wonderful… Ruth Padel writes with true passion. Her love for, and understanding of, the man and his music shine through each poem.’ - Steven Isserlis, cellist
‘With precision, heart-breaking beauty and lyric insight, Ruth Padel performs a miracle: he comes alive before us, the son of a drunk who became a genius – and here we are, following Padel’s own genius for composing the music of a story: generous, painful, tender, gorgeously lyrical.’ - Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
‘Ruth Padel’s poems capture that uncontainable spirit to an astounding degree, and preserve the primal shock of our first hearing.’ - Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker
‘Beethoven Variations challenges the assumption that the long-dead composer has little relevance to the contemporary moment. Resonant connections… speak to his universality. Padel’s light touch recharges the reader’s perception of the unfolding drama of his life. [With] a conversational intimacy like the composer’s chamber works, invocations originate in places once blessed by his presence - the orchestration, as it were, of one life through the prism of another, structured around Padel’s expansive empathy.’ Los Angeles Review of Books
BEETHOVEN VARIATIONS is a personal voyage through the life and legend of one of our greatest composers, retraces his steps through Europe, tracing his private thoughts through letters, diaries, and the conversation books he used as he went deaf. Beethoven as a battered four-year-old weeping at the clavier; the young pianist, agonised by encroaching deafness; the passionate heartbroken lover, the clumsy eccentric making coffee with exactly sixty beans, the isolated artist who ends even his most harrowing works on a note of hope.
Padel’s quest for Beethoven takes her to the heart of Europe and back to her own musical childhood. Her great-grandfather studied in Leipzig with Moscheles, a pupil of Beethoven, became a concert pianist, and migrated to Britain. Her parents met making music and Ruth grew up playing viola, Beethoven’s instrument as a child. This book grew from her collaboration with the Endellion String Quartet: an intimate response to Beethoven's music, a lyrical exploration of the power of music in all our lives.
In July 2020, Ruth recorded poems on Beethoven’s life for Bangalore International Centre, illustrated by playing and conversation from musicians.
‘She tells the great composer’s life story more profoundly than most biographies: her imagery and imagination took me deeper into Beethoven than many I’ve read. She suggests that his isolating deafness contributed to his greatness. Her poems are informed by her lifelong immersion in music and she helpfully includes 30 pages of short biographical bits linked to the poems Even these entries have poetic elegance.’ New York Times