Over the course of the summer, LMH authors will join us for a virtual Q & A session as part of our new Alumni Book Club.
Details of how to register for each event will be available nearer the time.
Ruth Padel (1965 Lit Hum) will answer your questions on Beethoven Variations.
About the author and book
Ruth Padel is an award-winning poet, author of twelve poetry collections, particularly connected to Greece, ancient and modern, classical music, science, and nature. She studied Mods and Greats at LMH .1965-9, wrote a Oxford D. Phil on Greek tragedy, taught ancient Greek at Oxford and Birkbeck College London, and taught opera in the Modern Greek Dept at Princeton, then gave up academe to write poetry but has also written and eight books of non-fiction, including two on mind and madness in Greek tragedy, one on the influence of Greek myth on rock music, one on wild tiger conservation, and three on reading contemporary poetry, drawing on her four-year column 'The Sunday Poem' in the Independent on Sunday. She rejoined academe in 2013 and is now Professor of Poetry at King’s College London, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Zoological Society of London. A lifelong musician, she has been first Resident Writer at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and has sung in the Schola Cantorum of Oxford, the Philippe Caillard Choir in Paris, the Heraklion Town Choir in Crete, and a nightclub in Istanbul. Darwin, A Life in Poems, on her great great grandfather Charles Darwin, was loved by thousands of readers who never normally read poetry, and for it she invented her own genre of biography-through-poems. Her latest work in that genre is on Beethoven's life and music. She is now working on a book about wild Asian elephants. See www.ruthpadel.com.
Beethoven Variations is a lyrical journey through the life and music of one of the world’s greatest composers, but also a miniature biography written with the resonant economy only poetry can give. Two hundred and fifty years after Beethoven’s birth, these poems uncover the man behind the music, tracing his private thoughts through diaries, letters and sketch-books while re-tracing his steps through Europe from Bonn to Vienna, Silesia and Prague, where he parted from his Immortal Beloved.
A ‘Coda’ of Life-Notes illuminates historical details behind the poems and the music. Here is the bruised four-year-old weeping at the clavier, the virtuoso pianist agonised by deafness, the heartbroken lover, the lonely artist who ends even his most harrowing works on a note of hope. The man we meet is jokey, lonely, violent, with a sweetness that keeps friends loyal despite the rows. Though he takes musical harmony to new extremes, his human relationships are often explosive and destructive. He throws eggs at a cook, roughs up his young nephew so the boy’s hernia pops out, is hopeless at house-keeping yet makes coffee with exactly sixty beans, feels expressiveness in music is more important than getting the notes right, and always ends his most heart-breaking work on a note of hope.
The book is a string-player’s response to Beethoven’s music and life. It grew out of Ruth Padel’s five-year collaboration with the Endellion Quartet in concerts in which she read poems about music they played. Her quest for Beethoven takes her back to her own childhood. Her great-grandfather, a concert pianist born on the German-Danish border, studied in Leipzig with Ignaz Moscheles, a follower of Beethoven. The book opens with her parents meeting through music-making. She grew up singing, and playing chamber music on viola, Beethoven’s instrument as a child. We see her getting a viola repaired in Berlin, playing quartets in Soviet-era Prague, city of Beethoven’s tryst with his Immortal Beloved. We travel with her to Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, his adopted city Vienna, Silesia where he had a row with his greatest patron, Linz where his chemist brother worked, and Krakow where she kisses the manuscript of a late quartet.