In 2014, "The Black Spaniard," a novel about young Beethoven's struggles, escapades, and ultimate triumph, is in the final stages of editing and rewriting. Publication is expected in late 2014 or in 2015. See my Facebook page for updates at: www.Facebook.com/TheBlackSpaniard .
This is a table in Beethoven's apartment in Mödling, Austria, one of the suburbs where he would retreat from the heat in Vienna during the summer months. I took this photo shortly after I completed the first draft of my novel about young Beethoven, The Black Spaniard.
The Black Spaniard was completed in August 2013 and is currently being revised.
Book I follows the life of Luis van Beethoven from birth through his 16th year. Book 2 takes our hero from his audition with the composer Haydn in 1792 to his completion of a Heroic Symphony in 1804. (Beethoven was variously known as Ludwig, Luis, Louis, Luigi during his life. I selected Luis for its pleasant sound and to convey what many considered the Spanish character of the composer.)
The novel focuses closely on Beethoven's ties with secret societies and his "otherness." As Beethoven leaves behind poverty and parochialism, he learns about integrity from the blind woman composer, Maria Paradis, and about human equality from Angelo Soliman, the first Black Freemason.
My research into late 18th/early 19th century Germany and Austria was supported by study visits to Bonn and Vienna in 2013, as well as immersion in the resources of the Princeton University Libraries.
Following are two excerpts, a light chapter (Ch. 53); and a more serious episode from earlier in the novel (Ch. 38) written when the name of the protagonist was Gardner. I also am including a stream-of-consciousness reflection on the Divine in Nature to give the reader a vivid sense of how my hero experienced the sacred within the world. These chapters may change as the novel is revised. Below is a golden vineyard and local church I photographed south of Vienna where Beethoven used to walk, composing in his sketchbook in the fresh air.
In this scene, Luis is 21 and en route to Vienna for the second time, to study music with the great composer, Franz Joseph Haydn.
The ride out was smooth enough, though at a brisk pace in order to reach the city within a week. There was an ever-changing parade of fellow passengers, but Luis was in no mood for conversation. He looked out the window, and sometimes read the literature Neefe had given him before his departure, strange writings from the East and Egypt, which he was sure to hide from the prying eyes of the occasional priest sharing the coach. Among them was a slim volume of a Hindu text translated by Forster. Forster…where had he heard that name before? Luis shook his head to himself. He had lived so long, it seemed, already had done so much, a lifetime’s work! He smiled: and yet it was just beginning. Thoughts of his old life already were slipping away, and recollections of Eleanor evaporated as the coach drew closer to its destination.
Luis hated to travel and stay in strange places, but most were routine along the way, with one exception. On one afternoon, he was the only passenger on the coach, and the driver stopped for the night in an out-of-the-way inn, very working class, and quite run down. While careless of his appearance and tired from a few days’ travel, Luis still cut an imposing figure, and his high black boots, a gift from Count Waldstein, still retained their shine.
After acquainting himself with his room—more like a monk’s shabby cell than the sort of lodgings he was now used to—Luis went downstairs for a meal and a pint. The tavern was filled with locals, laborers and farm hands who had been working hard to prepare the barns and fields for the winter ahead. The light wasn’t very good and cast an eerie golden glow over the squalid array of tables and stools. In one corner, Luis noticed a neglected piano, sunk in the shadows. The place had a stale, smoky smell, but he was hungry and eager to just get through the night.
The barmaid took his order. He had nothing to occupy him, no book or paper, and at any rate, one couldn’t read in this poor light. So he looked directly into the girl’s face, and noticed she was rather pretty, with blonde braids pinned over the top of her head. She in turn looked back, frowned, and took his order. “Where you from?” she asked, looking at him strangely. “You’re not from around here.” “Well, of course not,” said Luis, deciding to open up a bit. “I am employed by the court of a prince. And going to another in Vienna.” The girl’s eyes widened a bit, and she sized up his clothing. Then she smiled, revealing a missing canine tooth. Luis was amused, but maintained eye contact, until he heard a stool shift behind him, and a heavy hand thrash down on his shoulder.
“Darren!” the girl said, annoyed, looking at the hulking shape behind Luis. “Leave off, Darren!”
Darren pulled back on Luis’s shoulder and lifted him up with one hand. “Who do you think you are!” The young man was at least six feet tall, with arms like the rear flanks of a large hog, and smelling as sweet. Non-plussed, Luis turned and glared into the man’s ugly face. “Excuse me,” he scowled, “have we been introduced?” The tall man was not used to sarcasm. “Say,” he said, tightening his grip on Luis’s lapels, “we don’t need your kind around here.” “And what kind would that be?” demanded Luis, prying the rough fingers off one shoulder. “Black devils!” the ugly man said. “Straight from hell, you are!” Luis gave a short laugh, though he was quaking within. “You are mistaken!” he said. “I am van Beethoven. That would be van…”
“He’s an arissocrat!” called the bar keep, “lay off ‘im, Darren, we’ll have the ‘thorities here, and I’ll loose my license again!” Darren wasn’t so sure. “He’s a gentleman, fer sure,” said the girl, secretly pleased at the attention, but not wanting anyone to be hurt. “Ain’t you, dear?”
Luis unclenched his fists, and drew back a bit, pulling himself up to his full 5 foot 5 height (perhaps 5 foot 6 with the boots), and shook his hair, as though symbolically freeing himself from his assailant. “I am. In fact,” he was starting to enjoy the altercation after several days of inactivity, “have you heard of the Chevalier de St. George?” Blank stares from all around him. “He is a renowned Black musician lately in the French court. You might say I am…a German equivalent!” The tavern owner, impressed, nodded slowly. “It’s true about that ‘van,’ Darren, means royalty,” the man continued in a cautioning tone. “So, Mr. Van whatever, don’t mind Darren here, he’s just stickin’ up for his girl, you know how these things is.” Luis smiled a superior smile and waved his hand. Had he had a clean handkerchief, he would have waved that as well.
“No trouble,” said he, turning to nod pleasantly to the girl, who smiled another toothless grin. “So, let me try your goulash, then, as I see you have a piano, I would be delighted to play you a few tunes of your own choosing!” The group of a dozen patrons and the main actors in this drama relaxed a bit, and there were hums of approval. So it was that Luis became aware of two other wonderful qualities that he possessed: that of peacemaker among the lower classes, and his own ability to transform into royalty, thanks to the Dutch “van” in his name. The “van” actually meant no more than “of,” but in the German states, the equivalent “von” signified someone of royal birth (such as the von Breunings and Count von Waldstein). So what if a small deception were perpetrated; no harm was done. And after all, wasn’t Luis true royalty, the royalty of genius? It sounded convincing to him, and gave him another tool in his charted course to success.
Predictably, the meal was dreadful, but the bread was filling and the beer enlivening. Before long, Luis was at the dusty piano. He tossed the sheet music onto the floor, and was soon taking requests for “Polly, I wish I’d loved ya better” and “The long night’s dark without you, Bess.” There were at least six keys missing, and the piano had not been tuned since it was dropped off by a wandering furniture hauler some years before. Still, all had a good time, and soon, Darren was putting a hammy hand of friendship on the shoulder of the man he would have shaken to death an hour earlier. The crowd soon was singing “I miss you, Mother, how I miss your gentle heart,” and a few sobs escaped from the more intoxicated choristers.
At the end of the night’s revels, Luis, not overly sober himself, raised a tankard to all present, and said, “Remember, gents and lady, remember tonight, when van Beethoven gave you an evening of music!” “Hurrah!” and similar comments dwindled into the air as the owner closed up shop and Luis made it up to his room, satisfied with a night’s work.
In writing my novel, a fictional fantasy based on the childhood and youth of the composer Beethoven, I needed to convey the experience of the child Beethoven in ecstatic communion with the Divine in Nature. The only way to do this was to write a section in a kind of stream-of-consciousness rush of feeling, even though stylistically this is out of sync with the rest of the book. The section, which has been inserted into Chapter 25 in Book I, appears below:
Luis and Nature
For Luis was one of those hypersensitive children who experience nature through every cell and pore of their bodies. Stopping to sniff a lily, he absorbed the golden color, the brown stamens and pistils, and every speck of pollen dust; he became the lily, golden glow of the lily and how it deepened with the day, and the perfume, undetectable to most, filled his lungs, and spread into his arms and legs and out through the tips of fingers and toes, back into the world.
He became the bee, the hum of the bee, the fur of the bee’s coat and the scratch of its claws, invisible to other eyes, but not to his. The green leaves, the earth below, the worms, the little insects all like choristers singing a song that was his own song, for he was the song they sang. And the trees especially, when he ran into the woods, the trees rushed up and grabbed him and wrapped him in their long arms and smothered him (in a good sense) in their foliage, and lifted him up, and he was their sap, and they were his refuge, and they held him up to the sky, the blue, cloud-tossed sky, which had its own perfume which only he could know, a perfume so strong and intoxicating it drenched all the organs of his body, and he himself became the organ of the sky, the vehicle through which it knew itself.
And night, with silver moonlight and millions of shining stars shooting their tiny points of fire, penetrated his innermost being. Every hair on his body stood on end, like little receptors linking outside and in, and his eyes glazed and he could no longer see, and no longer hear, and no longer smell, but only feel, feeling without thought or reference point as though nature and he compressed into one unity of flow. Then the sky reached down to the dark grey Rhine, endlessly rocking to the north, and he would find himself wading in the shallows, with the seabirds who were nothing but projections of himself, and he would spread his broad white wings when morning came, and fly into that rising fire in the East, and fall as a ray on a wayside flower and appear like a golden glow and breathe in all life, all continuity, all cyclicity, over and over again, until something jolted him back into the world of parents and deeds, and he would shake his head, and hurry home.
And as it was with nature, with music it was the same.