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What is it about Beethoven?

September 11, 2020
Was Beethoven black? | AL DÍA News

My friend Gerald Elias is a wonderful fiction writer (and professional violinist) who (mostly) specializes in mysteries. His Daniel Jacobus mystery series, which combines Jerry’s two passions – classical music and murder – is a gem of a collection that I can’t recommend highly enough.

But this week, we’re talking about Jerry’s newest endeavor. A stand-alone mystery novel – “The Beethoven Sequence” – which fuses classical music with murder and…politics.

Here’s what reviewers are saying: “The Beethoven Sequence, the latest thriller by award-winning Gerald Elias, might be his best one yet. Written with the author’s unique sense of humor and his insightful musical references as a professional violinist, it tells the story of a mentally unstable conductor who becomes obsessed with Beethoven’s ideals of liberty and freedom, interspersed with an analysis of his past traumas and parental influences (thank you Sigmund Freud!) Including two murders and a teacher who is wrongly imprisoned, The Beethoven Sequence is a page-turner that is impossible to put down.”—Carol Lieberman, musician and journalist for Early Music America

And here’s what we’re saying in the Cold, where Jerry talks with us about writing, Beethoven, and his terrific new story.

Me: All of your books, no matter how dark, are (at least to me) a love letter to classical music.

So, I have to ask: Why Beethoven?

Jerry: I’m far from unique with the opinion that the three greatest composers are Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. Overall, Mozart is my favorite–and we can talk for hours about that–with the main reason being that Mozart isn’t all about freedom and heroism. It’s on a much more human level with feelings that we all share. That’s not meant to put Beethoven in a negative light at all. His accomplishments (particularly his last string quartets) are absolutely mind-boggling, even if he wasn’t deaf, and his expansion of the scope of what music can do was revolutionary and changed the world of music.
But regardless of my opinion of Beethoven, what’s important is Layton Stolz’s, and I hope that came through loud and clear.

Me: It did come through loud and clear. What makes Stolz compelling is that Beethoven’s music holds him in thrall – leading him to unexpected heights that he seems both unprepared for and even uninterested in. Stolz, however, is not the only character who is being influenced by Beethoven and the Beethoven sequence. Are the characters in charge of their own actions or is it the music?

Jerry: Stolz, through the power of his obsession, brought it alive for the other characters.

Me: Stolz feels driven to be a conductor and devote his life to music – despite his limited skill and experience. In order to get his proposed school orchestra green-lighted, he uses the most literal interpretations of Beethoven’s music to curry favor and play into the biases and aspirations of the school board. Then things take a more sinister turn. Tell me about the relationship between artistic rapture and insanity – if you believe there is such a thing. Is that a theme that fascinates you, or merely an interesting device that you wanted to play with as an author?

Jerry: Stolz was uncomfortable in the real world. He was a loner, partly by instinct, partly to avoid more psychological damage.

Me: The themes of freedom and triumph in the Beethoven sequence you illustrated in the novel have a wonderfully disturbing parallel with Stolz’s own emancipation from both his mundane, painful life and his sanity. Was it the music on its own that transformed his life?

Jerry: Stolz’s home life and job were a dead end. With Beethoven he saw an irresistible way out, perhaps his only way.

Me: You obviously have a passion for both music and fiction. Both are forms of storytelling. What are the differences in the way you approach interpreting (or composing) a piece of music, and writing a novel? Do you have a preference for one or the other?

Jerry: Of course, writing a novel is more like composing than it is like performing the work of another composer. But as you say, all three have a story-telling aspect, and I think a lot of performers, who have had the idea of exact reproduction drilled into them, lack the story-telling quality in their performance. (This is indeed one of the problems I have with the Suzuki method, through this shortfall is by no means their’s alone.)

I prefer writing stories to writing music these days, for a couple of reasons. 1) It’s really hard to get one’s music performed, and 2) A story goes directly to the reader without the necessity of an interpreter.

“The Beethoven Sequence” is available at these bricks and mortar bookstores and online outlets:

The Mysterious Bookship
The Kings English
Barnes & Noble
Apple Books
Kobo
Amazon

We’re not done here. Not by a long shot! Jerry and I have so much more to say. For those of you who missed my Q & A with Jerry on Tuesday evening, I’ve got a link to that Facebook live event right here!

Jerry at home in Salt Lake City

As a bonus – you even get to break quarantine, since this little book party takes place (virtually, of course) at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City! Jerry and I dive into all sorts of bookish themes, like discussing the difference between a mystery and a thriller, and much more on why artistic rapture is so often associated with madness! Plenty of fun, but no fluff! This is a conversation worth listening to…

Watch Gerald’s Mysterious Facebook Event Right Here!

3 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on writerchristophfischer and commented:
    This sounds like a great read. Any book that Victoria recommends so highly is worth checking out. I got my copy 🙂

  2. Might have to check this out. When I worked in a lab, I often had the Brandenburg Concertos on!

  3. You should google Jerry’s violin concertos, too. They’re wonderful.

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