Mr. Beethoven

Author(s): Paul Griffiths

Novel | Goldsmiths Prize short list 2020 | 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize

Paul Griffiths uses Oulipoaen constraints to imagine Beethoven visiting Boston to fulfill a commission to write a Biblical Oratorio for the Handel and Hayden Society.

In 1823 Beethoven received a commission to write a biblical oratorio in the United States. How could this have worked?

As Beethoven wrestles with his muse, and his librettist Rev. Ballou, he comes to rely on two women. Thankful, who conducts his conversations using Martha’s Vineyard sign language, and a kindred spirit: the widow Mrs. Hill. Meanwhile all Boston waits in anxious expectation of a first performance the composer, and the world, will never hear.

Variously admonishing the amateur music society and laughing in the company of his hosts’ children, the immortal composer is brought back to the fullness of life. Griffiths (former music critic: The New Yorker; The New York Times. Author: let me tell you; Modern Music And After) invents only what is strictly possible. His historiography weaves through the text in counterpoint, revealing the fragility of the traces he uses to give Mr. Beethoven seven more years.

About the author

Paul Griffiths is an internationally respected authority on classical music, whose books have been translated into twelve languages. He has worked as a music critic on major publications in London (The Times) and New York (The New York Times, The New Yorker). He received an OBE for services to music literature and composition, and has been honoured also in France (Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) and the United States (Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences). His first novel, 'Myself and Marco Polo' (Chatto & Windus), won a Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1990, and extracts from his third, 'let me tell you' (Reality Street), were made into a song cycle by Hans Abrahamsen in 2013 for Barbara Hannigan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.


The composer winds up in Boston. He brings his time, his temperament and his sense of democracy to us. But he can’t possible fit in.

Mark Swed – Los Angeles Times


Mr. Beethoven is a novel about interpretation: about how a writer might go about interpreting the life of one of the most well-known… composers who ever lived, but also about the role interpretation plays in creativity of all kinds. It is also, like much of Griffiths’s work, a riddling, playful, and often very funny investigation of literary form, and a demonstration of the unexpected liberation that can emerge from self-imposed constraints.

Jon Day –Music & Literature


A ride that compels you to join from the get go. It’s innovative, clever and has surprises at every chapter. This is a ‘what if’ tale like no other.

Robert Pisani – The Bobsphere


Where there are multiple interpretations, [Griffiths] explores the alternatives before settling on his choice. It is a bit like watching an organ transplant operation as space is made, the new part inserted and then everything is connected carefully to make it seem like the new organ has always been there.

Neil – Goodreads member


Few publishers can match HFP’s stratospherically high production standards.

David Collard


Available Stock:
On Order:

Order this Item

Add to Wishlist

Product Information

General Fields

  • : 9781999797492
  • : Henningham Family Press
  • : April 2020
  • : 18.50 cmmm X 13.40 cmmm X 3.00 cmmm
  • : books

Special Fields

  • : Paul Griffiths
  • : Paperback
  • : English
  • : 326