Beethoven Variations: Poems on a Life


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A fascinating poetic journey into the mind and heart of a musical genius, from the author of the celebrated Darwin: A Life in Poems, will be published by Alfred A Knopf, New York, in February 2021.

‘Absolutely gorgeous poems, beautifully written, full of wonderful imagery. The book really delves into Beethoven’s imagination and world. It has made me want to go and read all her other work as well. 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, lost everything, and found his way back. 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

‘Beethoven’s music encompasses the entire blinding spectrum of human thought and emotion, from violent to ethereal, chaos to sublimity. 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, author of The Rest is Noise

BEETHOVEN VARIATIONS is a personal voyage through the life and legend of one of the world’s greatest composers. Padel retraces his steps through Europe from Bonn to Vienna, Linz and Prague, tracing his private thoughts through letters, diaries, sketch-books, and the conversation books he used as his hearing grew worse. Beethoven as a battered four-year-old weeping at the clavier; the young virtuoso pianist, agonised by encroaching deafness; the passionate heartbroken lover, the clumsy eccentric making coffee with 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, Ruth grew up playing viola, Beethoven’s instrument as a child and this book grew from her five year collaboration with the Endellion String Quartet. The book is a string-player’s intimate response to Beethoven's music as well as his life, and a lyrical exploration of the power of music and myth-making in all our lives.