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Conversations with Beethoven (New York Review Books Classics)by Sanford Friedman
Synopses & Reviews
Sanford Friedman (1928–2010) was born in New York City. After graduating from the Horace Mann School and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, he was stationed as a military police officer in Korea, earning a Bronze Star. He began his career as a playwright and theater producer, and was later a writing instructor at Juilliard and SAGE (Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders). “Ocean,” a chapter from Friedman’s first novel, Totempole, was serialized in Partisan Review in 1964 and won second prize in the 1965 O. Henry Awards. Totempole (1965; available as an NYRB Classic) was followed by the novels A Haunted Woman (1968), Still Life (1975), and Rip Van Winkle (1980). At the time of his death, Friedman left behind the unpublished manuscript for Conversations with Beethoven.
Richard Howard is the author of seventeen volumes of poetry and has published more than one hundred fifty translations from the French, including, for NYRB, Marc Fumaroli’s When the World Spoke French, Balzac’s Unknown Masterpiece, and Maupassant’s Alien Hearts. He has received a National Book Award for his translation of Les Fleurs du Mal and a Pulitzer Prize for Untitled Subjects, a collection of poetry. His most recent book of poems, inspired by his own schooling in Ohio, is A Progressive Education (2014).
"This novel was the last completed by Friedman (Totempole) before his death in 2010, and a perfect grasp of ebbing mortality, in all its tedium and elusive clarity, informs the depiction of Beethoven's final year. When the book opens, the composer is already so deaf that friends and family communicate with him largely through pencil and paper; the narrative consists solely of snippets of dialogue. The speakers include Beethoven's protÃ©gÃ© Holz, his despised sister Johanna, and his patronizing brother Johann, while Beethoven remains largely silent, save for a handful of letters. The man that emerges, as though in relief, is a declining and paranoid crank. Initially he is seen trying to protect his troubled nephew Karl from the aftermath of a botched suicide attempt. He goes on to live in near-captivity on his brother's estate and, increasingly paranoid, enlists a servant's help in spying on his supposed enemies. Finally, the reader sees the collapse of Beethoven's health and his agonized attempts to parcel out his estate. The novel's brilliance lies in the discovery of the flawed human behind immortal genius: Friedman's Beethoven is just like us. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
An NYRB Classics Original
Just before his death, Sanford Friedman completed this, his final novel, something entirely different from anything he, or for that matter anyone, had written before— Conversations with Beethoven, a moving meditation on greatness and pettiness, vulnerability and genius, that is as elegiac as it is witty and engaging.
Beethoven compensated for his deafness by having other people write down their questions and comments in a notebook, and in Conversations with Beethoven Friedman dramatizes the last year of Beethoven’s life through these entries. We observe Beethoven primarily through the responses of friends, family, and others to his erratic, profane, even violent outbursts. Friedman paints a vivid portrait of the aging composer, struggling against illness, struggling with his music, and perpetually worried about his wayward ward and nephew, Karl. A delight to read, with a full cast of Dickensian characters ranging from the bibulous hanger-on Holtz, the oleaginous biographer Schindler, and Beethoven’s cheapskate country brother, Conversations with Beethoven slowly deepens to make a profound and memorable music of its own.
Born in New York City, Sanford Friedman (1928–2010) was an American novelist and playwright, who taught writing at Juilliard. After graduating from the Carnegie Institute of Technology, he served in the army in Korea from 1951 to 1953, where he was awarded a Bronze Star. His 1961 novel, Totempole, will be published by NYRB Classics in the fall of 2014.
Richard Howard received a National Book Award for his translation of Les Fleurs du mal and a Pulitzer Prize for Untitled Subjects, his third volume of poems. He is the translator of the NYRB Classics Alien Hearts, The Unknown Masterpiece, and When the World Spoke French.
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