The music and the myth of Ludwig van Beethoven have enjoyed unending popularity over the past two centuries. Recently, he became the subject of a massive new biography, and a separate examination of his use of paper give modern admirers fresh insight into the mind of a tortured genius.
Portrait Ludwig van Beethoven when composing the Missa Solemnis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A prolific writer, Beethoven composed nine symphonies, thirty-two piano sonatas, sixteen string quartets, and five piano concertos. Even while clinically deaf, he wrote some of his most profound musical scores. Beethoven's reliance on sheaves of manuscript paper to compose, to communicate and to create is explored in Nicholas Basbanes' most recent book, On Paper. Beethoven wrote and re-worked his music until what he saw on paper reflected the sounds in his head. Paper, like a piano, was essential to the composer, and through surviving sheet music historians are able to follow Beethoven's creative process. Even a cursory look at any leaf of Beethoven's handwritten music reveals ink smudges, swooping notes dashed madly across the page and holes in the paper where corrections were made, undone, then corrected again. Everything had to be set down on paper, because, as readers learn in the book, that Beethoven was, as professor Robert Winter says in On Paper, "creating sounds that did not previously exist."
Unlike Mozart, whose arrangements sprang almost fully formed from his hand to the page, Beethoven suffered over each and every note. Examples from both composers affirm two different men at work; one whose results are flawless from the outset, the other a tormented soul filled with divine music.
Jan Swafford's new biography, Anguish and Triumph, aims to extricate the man from the cult of personality that surrounded Beethoven even during his own lifetime. Swafford, also a composer in addition to biographer, spent a decade meticulously researching a man known to be quarrelsome, thunderous, and totally incapable of cultivating personal or professional relationships. In this 1,104-page book, published by Houghton Mifflin, Swafford surveys the era and the ideas that informed Beethoven's work, as well as offers critical insight into the composer's music. Both books peel away the composer's legend, and reveal the man within.
Piano Sonata in A Major, op. 101, Allegro: manuscript sketch in Beethoven's handwriting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Library will also debut Christopher Columbus Book of Privileges: The Claiming of a New World at the festival. Published by Levenger Press, the volume is a 184-page, full-color facsimile edition of the earliest manuscript reference to the New World, of which the LOC owns one of four principal copies, and the only one to contain contain the Papal Bull Dudum siquidem, the four-page letter that Pope Alexander VI composed on Sept. 26, 1493, containing the first written reference to a New World. The translator, John W. Hessler (curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection for the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas at the LOC), and the other two authors, Chet Van Duzer (who wrote Sea Monsters on Medieval and Renaissance Maps) and Daniel De Simone (Librarian at the Folger Library) will discuss the book at 3:30 in the LOC pavilion on the second floor of the convention center. Prior to that, "Magna Carta & Related Rare Book Items" is on the presentation schedule for 3:00 in the same LOC pavilion.
The theme of this year's event is "Stay Up With a Good Book," hence the lunar imagery on the poster art, seen at left, by illustrator Bob Staake. For a fun look at Book Festival posters, 2001-2014, go here.
We're proud to note that longtime FB&C columnist Joel Silver, director and curator of books at Indiana University's Lilly Library, will moderate one of the panels on "Acknowledging the Past." Other panelists include booksellers Ken Lopez and Tom Congalton, Sotheby's vice president Selby Kiffer, collectors Paul Ruxin and Jon Lindseth, and a number of "front-line" special collections librarians. There are also five featured speakers: Sarah Thomas, vice president, Harvard Library and Roy E. Larsen Librarian for the faculty of arts and sciences; Alice Schreyer, interim library director and associate university librarian for area studies and special collections, University of Chicago Library; Jay Satterfield, special collections librarian, Dartmouth College; Stephen Enniss, director, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin; and Mark Dimunation, chief of the rare book and special collections division, Library of Congress. Sounds like quite a lineup!
The colloquium is organized by the Kelvin Smith Library at Case Western Reserve, and presented in collaboration with River Campus Libraries at University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, and Washington University in St. Louis Libraries. Major sponsors include Preservation Technologies, L.P. and Addison & Sarova Auctioneers. The full schedule of events is posted here, and early bird registration is open until September 1.
Dorothy West (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Dorothy West (1907-1998) knew from an early age that she wanted to be a writer, but little did she realize that international success would come in her eighties, and that she would bear witness to the Harlem Renaissance, an artistic movement which took root in 1920's New York. Black painters, poets, musicians and writers from across America - many fleeing repressive Jim Crow laws in the South - founded a dynamic core based in that Manhattan neighborhood, leading to a flourishing cultural and social phenomenon that continues to impact the arts - from rap music, African-American literature, sculpture and poetry - all can trace their roots to this moment in history.
West's background was different from many of her peers. She hailed from a prosperous upper-middle class black family in Boston where her father, a freed slave, had been a successful fruit merchant. West attended the prestigious Boston Latin Public School and enjoyed summers on Martha's Vineyard. Eventually she moved to New York and while living at the Harlem YWCA, she became friends with influential writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Countée Cullen, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay.
As a young writer, West won various prizes for her short stories. Still, she struggled to find outlets that would publish her work - very few successful black publications existed in the 1920's, and West focused on life in black America, a topic that most magazines with a white readership would not publish. Despite setbacks, she continued to write, leaving Harlem and moving permanently to Martha's Vineyard in 1943, where she would write a weekly column for The Vineyard Gazette until her death in August 1998.
West's first book, The Living is Easy, published in 1948, examines the complexities of being black and upper-class in Boston around World War I. This would be her only book for decades, until she met fellow Island resident and Doubleday editor Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Onassis encouraged West to complete what would be, at 85 years old, West's breakthrough hit, The Wedding. Oprah Winfrey turned The Wedding into a two-part miniseries starring Halle Berry, airing in 1998. While success came late for West, she never relented in her literary pursuits. After The Wedding was published, she was asked in an interview to describe herself. West was a 'serious' child, and intently focused on her writing. Her mother suggested she loosen up a little. "'You better learn to laugh, little girl, you'd better learn to laugh,'" West's mother advised. "Before long, I discovered that I like life - and I like people."
This original oil painting of Tor House by Australian artist Kenneth Jack, c. 1969, goes to auction next week at PBA Galleries in San Francisco. The painting is signed, and a note card glued to the verso is signed and inscribed to the artist's friend Marlan Beilke in California, who specifically requested a portrait of the famous poet's house. It's a fine oil on board, ably executed, with literary associations -- certainly tempting for any Jeffers collector out there. The estimate is $2,000-3,000.
In an attempt at clarification (or rationalization), a company blog post notes that this new edition is packaged under the "Modern Classics" imprint, and its design should be more mature (as opposed to the whimsical children's editions that feature the illustrations of Quentin Blake). "This new image for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl's writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie's debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series."
Penguin releases the new edition on September 4. For a view of the various covers used for the perennially popular novel over the past fifty years, check out the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Facebook page. You can even vote for your favorite through Sept. 15.
Image via Penguin.