First Chapter: Beethoven in Love: Opus 139 by Howard J. Smith
Title: BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139
Author: Howard Jay Smith
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction
At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past.
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.
The Death of Beethoven
Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827
Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.
Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf Uhr. Five O’clock.
Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment.
Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.
Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness.
Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.
His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone…
Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est
Applaud My Friends, the Comedy is Over
By all accounts my funeral was a grand success.
Despite the snow and slush soaking through their shoes, all Vienna turns out. Twenty thousand mourners or more, accompanied by the Imperial Guards, guide the grieving to my grave. Streets crowded, impassable. My coffin, lined with silk, covered in flowers, rolls through the chaos on a horse drawn bier. Paupers and princes; merchants and mendicants; menials and musicians; clerics and commoners; they all come for this, their Beethoven’s final concerto.
As if they ever owned me or my music…
Plaudite, Amici, Comoedia Finite Est. Applaud my friends, the comedy are over. Inscribed herein rests my final opus.
Ja. Yes, they are all patrons and lovers… Lovers of my music, the very music the gods have forbidden me to hear. How cruel. To suffer my last decade without sound – any sound except the incessant surge of blood pounding through my veins – an eternity inscribed on the calendar pages of my life.
And so it is, these celebrants, anxious for one last encore, crowd the alleys and streets of the Hapsburgs capital in throngs not seen since the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Grande Armee oh so many years ago.
The cortege rolls on past the taverns and cafés of this fair city where dark beer, schnitzel and sausages reward the day. Ah, the saints and sinners of Vienna have always loved a good party, never mind the excuse.
Are they singing? Alle Menschen werden Brüder. All men will become brothers. They must be, yet I hear nothing.
I wonder if she is among them. My muse; my love; my passion; my sacred fire; will she be there to safeguard my voyage through Elysium?
Or is she too denied me as was the sweet sighs of love and the embrace of family stolen by gods capricious and uncaring? Are they so vengeful? So embittered by spite? Like Prometheus, have I dared too close to revelations reserved for them alone?
The clouds grow ever darker, ominous.
Must I embrace death silently ere my last symphony suffuses the stage? Is this my end? To be cast out as by our Creator as history’s cruel joke, a deaf musician? A composer unable to know the vibrancy of his own scores?
Tell me why your Beethoven, your servant whose hearing once surpassed all others in sensitivity and degree, must suffer such humiliation and torment?
Are the crowds laughing? Ja oder nein? Yes or no. I know not. Am I such a failure, such a disgrace to be shoved off the stage without your mercy or compassion?
As surely as the warmth of summer vanishes and the leaves of autumn crumble beneath the crush of winter, has all hope been stolen? Can I escape this fate? What path must I travel? What tasks of redemption are to be mine and mine alone?
Come death; am I to meet your shadow with courage? Must I depart in this winter of anguish before the renewal of spring?
Can I not find release from this cycle of sufferings like a saint or a Hindoo holy man following the dance of Shiva or a Bodhisattva, back bent upon the path of the great Buddha?
The last echoes of joy inside my heart are already fading. Will I never hear or feel those vibrations again? Never? Nein. Forever. Lost for eternity in the fog on the road to Elysium; that is too hard, too harsh.
But surely a loving father must dwell in the starry canopy above. Are you there, oh sweet Isis, my goddess of compassion? Help me, help guide me.
Please Providence; grant me this, my final wish… Grant but one day, just one day, one day of pure joy to your poor Beethoven.
Is this too much to ask before I embrace darkness forever? Oh, to be in her arms once again.
About the Author
Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony – “The Best Small City Symphony in America” – and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.