The idea for the Late Literary Lunch series was to explore the work of authors who had used pieces of classical music to give effect to their stories or their characterisation. There are lots of examples of things being done the other way round: composers giving musical expression to authors’ creations. The reverse is not so common, and, I thought, would be interesting to investigate.

There are three programmes:

Here is the script of the first one, which sets the scene, and then explores the uses made of Beethoven’s music by Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, EM Forster and Anthony Burgess. The quotations from the novels are in bold type.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. This is Tony Westwood on behalf of Fine Music Radio inviting you to take your seats for our late literary lunch. This is the first of three occasions when you are invited to sample the music that appears in various works of literature. People who know and enjoy good music are aware that composers often use literary works as their inspiration. Goethe’s Faust appears in many guises as do the works of William Shakespeare. Well, in these three lunch gatherings, we are going to turn this on its head and have examples where writers have used pieces of music to enhance what they are writing – to add depth or character to a particular scene or theme in a novel or play. In this first programme – in other words, for this first lunch, we will see how the works of one composer – a very famous composer – have appeared in a number of novels. In the second programme, we will take a particular century in a particular country, and for the third programme or lunch to which you are invited, we shall explore one particular writer, one particular novel – indeed, a single chapter in that novel. I hope you will be able to join in our literary lunches – all three of them. So to the fare for today’s lunch. If one was asked to guess which composer’ music is likely to appear in works of literature, it wouldn’t require much thought to realise that it was going to be Ludwig van Beethoven. That Colossus of humanity is very likely to come to mind when a writer wants to add depth to his writing. So we’ll start in Russia: Leo Tolstoy and a small novel of his that takes its title from one of Beethoven’s works: the Kreutzer sonata for violin and piano. Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata is a troubling exploration of the relationship between men and women. It is the story of a marriage founded on the unequal relations between a man and a woman where, according to the main protagonist (Poz-dny-shev by name) who tells his story to a hapless fellow passenger in a train, a man’s need for sex and the biological consequences of it – in other words children and breast-feeding for the woman – inevitably lead, if chastity is maintained by the man, to a chasm between the partners. The woman (if freed from recurrent child-bearing) tends to coquettishness  and the man to jealousy. Enter music. I quote: “she again enthusiastically took up the piano which she had quite abandoned, and it all began from that’. Enter a male violinist, an acquaintance of the husband. She and he play together. A private concert is arranged. Picture the scene. Through the eyes of a jealous husband: ‘a couple are occupied with the noblest of arts – music. This demands a certain nearness and there is nothing reprehensible in that, but only a stupid jealous husband can see anything undesirable in it, yet everybody knows that it is by these means, those very pursuits especially of music that the greater part of the adultery in our society occurs.’ So here Tolstoy uses Beethoven to encourage an adulterous relationship in the eyes of a very jealous man: ‘then I remember how they glanced at one another, turned to look at the audience who were seating themselves, said something to one another and began. He took the first chords. His face grew serious stern and sympathetic and, listening to the sounds he produced, he touched the strings with careful fingers. [put the beginning in here – 16’] The piano answered him. The music began [put the piano reply in here – 11’] Do you know the first presto? You do? he cried. It is a terrible thing that sonata and especially that part.’ In Tolstoy’s story the Kreutzer sonata first movement leads to murder: the man murders his wife. So at the risk of setting off the occasional murder around Cape Town, we are now going to listen to the first movement complete Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. Yasha Heifetz on the violin and Brooks Smith on the piano.

 

[Play 1st movt, Kreutzer Sonata – 10 min]

 

The Kreutzer Sonata by Beethoven, first movement. Yasha Heifetz, the violinist. Poz-dny-shev in the Kreutzer Sonata by Tolstoy was very angry that Beethoven knew why he wrote that, but for the listener like you and me that music only agitates and doesn’t lead to the conclusion.

 

Further down the lunch menu today, we will meet another protagonist for whom music does some rather unpleasant things. Poz-dny-shev although so worked up about that first movement is rather dismissive of the rest of the Sonata: ‘after that Allegro, they played the beautiful but common and unoriginal andante with trite variations and the very weak finale.’ So I think we’ll miss them out today.

 

Now –  for the second course in our literary lunch – our late literary lunch. We move still in the company of Ludwig van Beethoven to another writer; from Tolstoy to EM Forster and from a sonata to a symphony.

 

In Chapter 5 of Howard’s End Forster takes some of his characters to a concert – appropriately for Chapter 5, it is a performance of Beethoven’s 5th symphony. It is mostly seen through the eyes of young Helen Schlegel whose idealistic sensibilities animate much of the novel.

 

‘It will be generally admitted that Beethoven’s fifth Symphony is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it. Whether you are like Mrs Munt and tap surreptitiously when the tunes come, of course not so as to disturb the others. Or like Helen who can see heroes and shipwrecks in the music’s flood or like Margaret who can only see the music . Or like brother Tibby who is profoundly versed in counterpoint and holds a full score open on his knee.  In any case, the passion of your life becomes more vivid and you are bound to admit that such a noise is cheap of two shillings. [Play a little of the first movement – 47’] The Andante had begun: very beautiful but bearing a family like this to all the other Andante’s that Beethoven had written and Helen’s mind rather disconnecting the heroes and shipwrecks of the first movement from the heroes and goblins of the third.  She heard the tune through once and then her attention wandered. [2nd movement 1st statement – 56’] And then  Beethoven started decorating his tune so she heard him through once more, and then she smiled. [2nd movement variation – 54’] How  Interesting that row of people was; What diverse influences had gone into their making. Then Beethoven after humming and hawing the great sweetness said ‘Heyhoe’ [End of 2nd movement – 27’] and the Andante came to an end.  Helen said to her aunt, ‘now comes the wonderful movement. First the goblins and a trio of elephants dancing. The music started with the goblins walking quietly over the universe from end to end. [Start of 3rd movement – 1m55’]. A trio of elephants dancing. [Trio – 1m2’]. After the interlude of elephant dancing the goblins returned. [Recap of Scherzo – 1m7’] Her brother raised his finger. It was the transitional passage from the drum, for, as if things had gone too far. Beethoven took hold of the goblins and made do what he wanted. He appeared in person. He gave them a little push and they began to walk in a major key instead of in a minor. [Start Interlude – 21’] And then he blew with his mouth and they were scattered. Gusts of splendour, gods and demigods contending on the field of battle. Magnificent victory, magnificent death. [start of 4th movement – 1m 50’]. And the goblins? – they have not really been there at all? Beethoven knew better. The goblins really had been. They might return and they did. It was as if the splendour of life might boil over and waste to steam and froth. In its dissolution one heard the terrible ominous note and a goblin with increased malignity walked quietly over the universe from end to end. Panic and emptiness. [4th movt 2nd excerpt – 58’] Beethoven chose to make it all right in the end. He blew with his mouth for the second time, and again the goblins were scattered, He brought back the gusts of splendour, the heroism, the youth, the magnificence of life and death and amidst vast roarings of superhuman joy he led his 5th symphony to its conclusion. [End of Beethoven 5 4th movt – 5m10’] But the goblins were there. They could return. He had said so bravely, and that is why one can trust Beethoven when he says other things.

 

An interesting way to listen to Beethoven’s overworked 5th symphony, I hope – through the eyes of one of English literature’s colourful characters. Helen Shlegel in EM Forster’s Howard’s End.

 

The next Beethoven work in this literary lunch appears in at least two novels — one English and one German.  The work is the last movement of Beethoven’s last piano Sonata Opus 111.  Beethoven’s last utterance in a major musical form — very tempting for a novelist.

 

Aldous Huxley in Antic Hay, a novel of the 1920s, brings this set of variations on a slow C major theme — Beethoven calls it an Arietta — a small Air or song — into a conversation between Theodore Gumbril (the young inventor of the pneumatic trousers – believe it or not) and one of three women he is involved with.  They are in Kew Gardens in London, sitting on the lawns:

 

‘It’s like the Arietta, don’t you think?’ said Emily suddenly, ‘ the Arietta of Opus 111.’ And she hummed first bars of the air.  [1st 8 bars – 22’] ‘ Don’t you feel it’s like that?  ‘

 

‘ What’s like that?’ 

 

‘Everything,’ said Emily.  ‘ Today, I mean.  You and me.  These gardens — ‘ and she went on humming. [2nd 8 bars – 26’]

 

Gumbril shook his head.  ‘Too simple for me,’ he said.

 

Emily laughed.  ‘Ah, but then think how impossible it gets a little farther on.’ She agitated fingers wildly, as though she were trying to play the impossible passages.  ‘It begins easily for the sake of poor imbecile like me; but it goes on, it goes on, more and more fully and subtly and abstrusely and embracingly.  But it’s still the same movement.’

 

Huxley breaks the idyll with a mad dash to the Albert Hall for Mozart’s string quintet in G. Minor — but that’s next week’s lunch.  So – ‘subtly, abstrusely, embracingly’.

 

Thomas Mann is other writer who inserted Beethoven’s Arietta into a novel.  Thomas Mann, who famously said that if anything was worth writing about, it was worth writing about at length.  So we can expect a few more adverbs on top of Huxley’s to describe Beethoven’s last piano Sonata movement.  Mann’s novel is Dr Faustus, a pseudo-biography of composer Adrian Leverkuhn who, after a pact with the devil and a single visit to a prostitute, invents a Schoenberg-like harmonic structure for his compositions and gets syphilis of the brain.  Mann illustrates Leverkuhn’s early musical exposure with a lecture on Beethoven Opus 111 that he and his biographer attend as teenagers.  The lecture is given by his stuttering music teacher.  His question: why has Opus 111 only got two movements?

 

After the first movement, the teacher laid his hands on his lap, was quiet for a moment, and then said ‘ Here it comes!’ and began the variations movement.  The Arietta theme, destined for vicissitudes for which its idyllic innocence it would seem not to be born, is presented at once, and announced in 16 bars, [Whole theme – 1m26’] reducible to a motif which appears at the end of the first half like a brief soul-cry. [3 notes – 8’] Simply that.  What now happens to this mild utterance, rhythmically, harmonically, contrapuntally (a few more adverbs for us) to this pensive, subdued formulation, with what its master blesses and to what condemns it, into what black nights and dazzling flashes, crystal spheres wherein coldness and heat, repose and ecstasy are one and the same, he flings it down and lifted up, or that one may well call vast, strange, extravagantly magnificent, without thereby giving it a name, because it is quite truly nameless; and with labouring hands the teacher played us all those enormous transformations, singing at the same time with the greatest of violence and mingling his singing with shouts.

 

Well, I would sing over the music, but, after all those literary descriptions, it is time to play it.  Listen out for where, quoting Mann again, ‘ there is a wide gap between bass and treble, between the right and left-hand, and a moment comes, and utterly extreme situation, when the poor little motif seems to hover alone and forsaken above a giddy yawning abyss ‘. Also (this is me again) the fourth variation has all the syncopation of a 1920s jitterbug — and maybe that’s one subliminal reason to its inclusion in the Huxley’s Antic Hay??  Beethoven Opus 111 the whole slow movement: As Beethoven demanded – very slow, very simple and singing……

 

[2nd movement of Opus 111 complete]

 

The teacher turned his face towards us and, in a few words, brought to an end his lecture on why Beethoven had not written in the third movement to Opus 111.  We had only needed, he said, to hear the piece to answer the question ourselves.  A third movement — impossible!

 

With that and thanking Ivo Pogarelitch, we’ll take our leave of Thomas Mann’s Dr Faustus and Beethoven.  Fast forward to 1962.  ‘ What’s it going to be, eh?’.  The first words of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.  Classical music and Beethoven in particular appear in a very equivocal light in this novel.  15-year-old narrator Alex’s pleasure in extreme violence is enhanced by the sound of classical music.  Pop music is too insipid for Alex.  A chemical cure for his violent tendencies produces a dreadful nausea every time he hears Beethoven, because the triumphant last movement of his fifth Symphony that we heard earlier in more innocent circumstances in the EM Forster accompanies the scenes of Nazi terror that are part of the aversive therapy Alex is subjected to.  This puts the reader in a morally dubious position: we want Alex to be able to enjoy the music we love, but are only too glad that he is no longer carving up old ladies.  (Another slice of beef anyone?) I am not sure that Burgess resolves that, but he does give me as host and presenter a way out.  After being used as a political pawn, Alex gets his musical appreciation back and plunges back into the Beethoven that gave him the dangerous emotional highs of his younger days.  I will read an extract in the teenage slang in which he writes.  Burgess allows me to play out with the calm of the slow movement of his Choral Symphony Number 9, and not the Ode to Joy that accompanies one of the most sickening scenes of his novel.  This allows you to digest the end of your late literary lunch in peace.  I hope to see you for lunch next week.  Have a horrorshow week!

 

‘The Ninth,’ I said. ‘The glorious Ninth.’

And the Ninth it was, O my brothers. Everybody began to leave nice and quiet while I laid there with my glazzies closed, slooshying the lovely music. The Minister of the Inferior said: ‘Good good boy,’ patting me on the pletcho, then he ittied off. Only one veck was left, saying: ‘Sign here , please.’ I opened my glazzies up to sign, not knowing what I was signing and not, O my brothers, caring either. Then I was left alone with the glorious Ninth of Ludwig van.

 

Oh, it was gorgeosity and yumyumyum. When it came to the Scherzo [short extract of Scherzo – 4’] I could viddy myself very clear running and running on like very light and mysterious nogas, carving the whole litso of the creeching world with my cut-throat britva. And there was the slow movement [bring in the slow movement under the speech] and the lovely last singing movement still to come. I was cured all right.

 

[Beethoven Symphony No 9: 3rd movt ending – length determined by total programme time]

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Click here for the 2nd Late Literary Lunch programme (English literature)

 

and here for the 3rd programme (Thomas Mann)