Wednesday, 25 March 2015



Any book with the word "Beethoven" in the title will attract me. Classical music is my passion - I produce and present a weekly classical radio program - so of course I had to read this novella and was highly impressed with Sweeney's use of language to paint a vivid portrait of not only the characters, but of the lives they lived at that time.

The beauty of the face on the cover is a measure of the writing within. Exquisitely presented, this is the story of a woman - perhaps his "immortal beloved" - with whom Beethoven was believed to be deeply in love and to whom he wrote many letters. Although Beethoven fell in love a number of times throughout his life, he was never successful in his pursuits. In spite of his recognised genius, he was considered too lower class for the women to whom he aspired. Beset by illness and court battles over the custody of his nephew, the setting for this novella was the latter part of his life.

Life for women, particularly in the lower classes, in the composer's time was frequently one of slavery. Adela, reduced to relative poverty by her drunken, abusive father's lifestyle, is trapped in the home with him and his predatory assistant. Deprived of her piano and no longer able to enjoy the comforts of the lifestyle to which she was born, her only escape is into the secrets of her mind.

Beethoven, deaf and ailing in health, arrives at an inn to be the subject of an early photograph which necessitates him sitting still for many hours while the image burns into the photographic plate. As crowds gather to leer at the famous composer, Adela and Beethoven get to know each other a circumstance which eventuates in their meeting at a later date.

Sweeney uses a passage in the book to brilliantly sum up the worship of celebrity, painting a picture of society which is re-enacted wherever fans gather to gawk at the famous: " The very notion that he was there made grown men beat each other to the ground and trample each other in an attempt to see him. And the very notion that he was there made grown men forget there's nothing to be gained by seeing somebody who is a stranger to you, who has no place in your life, who has no interest in you and wouldn't care if you never existed. There was nothing to be gained except an opportunity for gross humiliation."(quote from the book).

This summary is familiar to us all, being enacted almost nightly on the television and particularly when theatrical and musical awards are being handed out.

I enjoyed not only the whimsical yet believable account of what may have transpired between Beethoven and a young woman, but also the analysis of the great composer's music.

Highly recommended.

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