Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Bookish Conversation with Howard J. Smith, author of 'Beethoven in Love; Opus 139'

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.




About the Book:

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.

Purchase Information:


Thanks for this interview, Howard Jay.  Can we begin by having you tell us about yourself from a writer’s standpoint?

I am an award-winning writer living in Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is my third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow & Bread Loaf Writers' Conference Scholar, I taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and have lectured nationally. My short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary & trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, I worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. I serve on the board of directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony -- The Best Small City Orchestra in America -- and am a member of the American Beethoven Society.

When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation and/or fun?

Living near the ocean now, we enjoy hiking and kayaking along the coast.  We also frequent the many local classical music performances and the Opera.

Congratulations on your new book! Can you give us the very first page of your book so that we can get a glimpse inside?

Chapter One: 
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 is 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.

Would you say it’s been a rocky road for you in regards to getting your book written and published or pretty much smooth sailing?  Can you tell us about your journey?

Writing and researching “Beethoven in Love; Opus 139” has been a five year journey, every moment of which was an absolute pleasure.  I have been working as a professional writer, screenwriter, teacher and executive in Hollywood and elsewhere for almost four decades.  All of my teachers from years past, John Irving, Tim O’Brien, Toni Morrison and John Gardner, all won National Book Awards or something similar.  When I first set out to do a novel on someone as famous and well known as Beethoven, I knew I had to first have it thoroughly researched and be accurate or I would have been shredded by the music world.  Given the enormous amount of material on his life, including dozens of major biographies, six volumes of letters as well as his diaries, I quickly realized the scope and size of what I had taken on.  I told myself that I would proceed with this project only if I felt the quality of the writing was at a level that the final draft could conceivably be in the discussion for a National Book Award.  When I was ¾ done, I began showing it around to my friends in the writing community and their response was, “Yes, you’re there.”  Since that time, the reviews from critics in the literary world, the music world and more specifically, the world of Beethoven scholars and devotees has been wonderful – and gratifying.

If you had to summarize your book in one sentence, what would that be?

At the moment of his death, Beethoven must find a way to come to peace with all of the failings of his life in order to order to enter Elysium and be rejoined with his Immortal Beloved.

What makes your book stand out from the rest?

Beethoven was a man of great brilliance, passion and pain, who conveyed those emotions through his music and his love affairs.  My novel is a journey through the trials and triumphs of his life that is not only equally passionate, but is also composed with a literary grace and structure that matches the magic of his music.

If your book was put in the holiday section of the store, what holiday would that be and why?    

Valentine’s Day.  What else?

Would you consider turning your book into a series or has that already been done?   

No, there is only one life for Beethoven, but my next project is not too far afield, it is a novel about Mozart and the man who wrote the lyrics for his three most famous operas, Lorenzo Da Ponte, entitled simply:  “Mozart, Da Ponte, Scandal!”

What’s next for you?  

 “Mozart, Da Ponte, Scandal!”

And one final note:

The original art work -  Beethoven Dreams of his Immortal Beloved - created exclusively for the novel BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is by internationally renowned artist Zak Smith, son of the author.

Zak Smith first came to prominence at the Whitney Biennial with his mammoth work 'Pictures Showing What Happens on Each Page of Thomas Pynchon's Novel Gravity's Rainbow.' Smith's paintings and drawings are held and/or have been exhibited in major public and private collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Saatchi Gallery in London, the Contemporary Museum of Art, Baltimore and the Carnegie Mellon University Museum. The son of the author, he lives and works in Los Angeles. He is represented by the the Fredericks Freiser Gallery in New York.
For more information about Zak, please go to:

No comments:

Post a Comment