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Conversations with Beethoven

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  204 ratings  ·  35 reviews
An NYRB Classics Original

Deaf as he was, Beethoven had to be addressed in writing, and he was always accompanied by a notebook in which people could scribble questions and comments. Conversations with Beethoven, in a tour de force of fictional invention, tells the story of the last year of Beethoven's life almost entirely through such notebook entries: Friends, family, stu
Paperback, 285 pages
Published September 2nd 2014 by New York Review of Books (first published January 1st 2014)
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Aug 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Published after his death, this was the last novel by American novelist and playwright Sanford Friedman (1928 – 2010) and is an unusual and moving read. Set during the last year of Beethoven’s life, this is not a work which deals with an untouchable genius, but with a real man, with all the niggling problems, human emotions, flaws and colourful cast of characters that surround the composer as he nears the end of his life. Due to his deafness, Beethoven spoke aloud (and often loudly!) but require ...more
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it

Sara, daughter: Dad
Karen, Goodreads friend: Señor
Melissa, niece: Uncle Ton
Ken, friend: Tony
Beemer, former boss: T

----- ----- ----- ----- -----
----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Need any help with this one, Dad.

No, no, I know you'll know what to say; I meant like downloading some picture from the internet.

Well, okay, but remember to hit 'Save' often because you're kinda new to the laptop.

----- ----- ----- ----- -----

Ees been a long time, Señor.

Yes, but it's been a week since y
This enjoyable epistolary novel is set in 1826-7, the last year of Beethoven’s life. The composer, in his mid-50s by this time, was as cantankerous as ever. He communicated aloud, but had visitors write in notebooks. The novel, then, is a compilation of jotted entries plus the letters Beethoven sent and received. (Unfortunately, the introduction to this posthumous novel was not included in my e-book download, so I am unsure to what extent Friedman drew on the historical record. I presume he wrot ...more
robin friedman
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beethoven's Last Year

Americans have shown a great fascination with the great German composer Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -- 1827) as reflected, among other ways, in many biographies, cultural studies, poems, and novels. Among recent works on Beethoven is "Conversations with Beethoven" by the American novelist and playwright Sanford Friedman (1928 -- 2010). This work remained unpublished at the time of Friedman's death and was published at last in 2014 as part of the New York Review of Books ongoi
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received an advanced copy of this book from The New York Review of Books through NetGalley.

The format and style of this book is nothing short of genius. Because of his deafness, Beethoven would use conversation books to communicate in the last years of his life. His friends and family would write their parts of a conversation in the books and he would respond orally. CONVERSATIONS WITH BEETHOVEN attempts to reconstruct the conversation book from the last year of his life.
These conversations wi
Steven Eldredge
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely wonderful book, ingeniously conceived and flawlessly carried out. Beethoven, who was of course profoundly deaf in his final years, and in ill health, carried on conversations by means of 'conversation books'; notebooks where friends, family, visitors would scribble their part of the conversation in pencil and the composer would answer vocally. This novel, which covers 1826-27, the final year of his life, is written entirely from the point of those scribblers, and we are to ...more
May 14, 2019 rated it liked it
I got this book because I wanted to learn more about Beethoven. It is written in a unique style -- the fictional comments that people wrote in a notebook to the Maestro when he was deaf. The author does a great job with this technique. However, I didn't want to "hang out" with the characters long enough to finish the book -- their squabbles, ego-driven arguments and anger. ...more
Mar 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating portrait in voices of a great artist and infuriating man in his final years. Beethoven is deaf throughout the book, but far from silent. Like a piece of music in which many lines of harmony provide counterpoint to a grand theme, dozens of friends, family members, lawyers and doctors speak, but the composer’s outsized voice and personality are the loudest of all.
Earl Adams
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Freidman cleverly relates the final months of Beethoven's life almost exclusively through half-rendered conversations. What might seem like a trick, succeeds terrifically as a novel. It's smart, insightful and often very funny... ...more
Dec 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Yet another case for imaginative historical fiction, which succeeds in producing finer, more complex portraits than the biography, which lapses so frequently into tedium, hedgy speculation, and ego
Rose Panieri
Sep 17, 2018 rated it it was ok
A very important point for Beethoven researchers, “Conversations with Beethoven” is a novel, not biographical.

When I purchased “Conversations with Beethoven,” I was under the impression it was similar in scope to the “Beethoven Conversation Books” by Theodore Albrecht – a biographical account that painstakingly transcribes and translates the content of Beethoven’s conversation books.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Though it is not clear from the book’s cover and most reviews, “Conversation
Aseem Kaul
Nov 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction-novel
There is a great silence at the heart of the Sanford Friedman's brilliant Conversations with Beethoven, or rather, there is a silenced greatness. The conceit of the novel is that it consists entirely of a record of selected conversations those close to him have with Beethoven in what turns out to be his last year; conversations where whatever is 'said' to the deaf composer is written down, whereas his (presumably spoken) responses are not recorded, and must be inferred from the transcripts. This ...more
Daniel Polansky
Yeah...not bad. The conceit itself is clever enough – the collected jottings of the relatives, friends and acquaintances of Beethoven in the year before his death, after his hearing had depreciated to the point where all communication needed to be written down and passed to him. As Beethoven mostly spoke his responses, our picture of the maestro is drawn largely in negative space, that is to say, from the way the other characters interact with him. What develops is a portrait of an irascible, to ...more
Aug 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
I abandoned this book after about 20 pages or so. It just didn't seem worth the effort I was putting into trying to stick with it. I was expecting this to be an epistolary style novel based on Beethoven's letters but that's not what I found when I started reading. Instead the author has left the real life Beethoven out of the picture and chosen instead to concentrate on making up a series of letters and notes that might have been addressed to him. The reader is tasked with imagining what his res ...more
Dec 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
A weird bit of epistolary poetics revolving around the final months of the cantankerous, drunk old Beethoven’s life, as well as that of his beloved nephew Karl and a host of other characters. Often funny and poignant, always entertaining, Friedman's posthumous novel ingeniously bypasses the woodenness of contemporary Romantic prose by having his characters address the Venerable Maestro in terse, practical statements. ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A glimpse into Beethoven’s life

A novelization of the conversation books that Beethoven used to communicate after he became deaf, the book compels your participation in order to fill in the blanks for the Maestro since he usually spoke his response.
Because of the fragmented nature of the writing I wouldn’t recommend this to everyone. If you enjoy a bit of mystery and detective work then you will enjoy reading this.
Justin Echols
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anglo-lit
Reading this novel was an absolute pleasure.
Jul 08, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clever and insightful imagination of Beethoven's final year. My but the Maestro was an ornery one! ...more
Feb 06, 2021 rated it really liked it
A real tour de force of experimental writing where the main character is silent throughout almost the entire novel.
Maritza Buendía
Apr 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman is a unique work of fiction that recounts Beethoven's later years when he was completely deaf and communicated by means of written notes. The narrative of Beethoven's activities and demise stay close to biographical records. The assumption is that Beethoven does speak but the reader only sees the notes written by the people he is communicating with. This unique style depends on the engagement and imagination of the reader. The author does include ...more
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
As is fairly well known, Beethoven was deaf for the final years of his life and communicated via notes. Mr. Friedman uses these details to craft a story of the final year of Beethoven’s life in a novel that wasn’t published until after Mr. Friedman’s death (apparently due to lack of interest from publishing houses, which surprises me).

The novel’s style is more play than prose, with the caveat that the speakers aren’t identified by name but rather by how they address Beethoven. Let me suggest now
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting little book and I really enjoyed it, but I expect it wouldn't be for everyone. Set-up as a notebook in which people wrote to the deaf Beethoven in the final year of his life, it can be difficult to follow who is actually talking to him at points which unfortunately detracts. On the other hand, this same effect does make it seem very real, as if you could very well be reading the transcribed and translated notebooks of his real life. It is shocking to look back now, Beetho ...more
Sep 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very intriguing piece of bio-fiction consisting solely of the written half of conversations with the composer Beethoven (who was deaf, which I assume is mostly common knowledge almost 200 years after his death). I don't know if Friedman ever saw one of the real Beethoven "conversation" books or not but his version is quite readable and all the characters quite distinct from each other so it's easy to follow a scene with only half the dialogue and no description. Beethoven, for all his genius, wa ...more
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
I don't think this book is QUITE the intellectual and outré work many of its defenders have claimed of it, but it was a fun yarn and a good palette cleanser after reading the bloated Sarah Waters book. Mileage may vary based on the reader's knowledge of the family van Beethoven, or how impressed they are at conveying a mute person's speech when its interlocutor says "you want me to spy on your nephew? Thank you for the money!" (I mean, seriously, didn't the Peanuts run with this idea for forty y ...more
Nov 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a lot of fun and you don't really need to know much about music. Hadn't realized that during last years, everyone communicated with Beethoven by writing things down and he would usually respond verbally so there were left behind myriad half conversations in which Beethoven's contribution must be inferred. This book amusingly focuses very little on music, more on more mundane issues of health, wayward nephew, etc. and is highly recommended. A lost treasure as billed. ...more
Dec 16, 2014 rated it liked it
The book has an interesting concept but one that also made for a slightly frustrating read: it consists of notes supposedly from Beethoven's notebooks, when people needed to write down what to wanted to tell him.
It has certainly motivated me to read a biography of Beethoven though (probably Beethoven: Anguish and Triump by Jan Swafford), as I tend to prefer reading non-fiction over fiction.
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
For much of this book I was extremely annoyed with the troubled genius and his irascibility - which is a credit to the author of this book. This perpetually one-sided dialogue paints a clear and affecting portrait. Pretty heartbreaking in the end.
Leslie Ann
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
The format makes reading the book seem like reading half of a play, but the writing is so vivid that you can infer Beethoven's responses. And despite the large cast of characters, I was eventually able to recognize the speaker without having to refer to the table at the beginning. ...more
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
I found parts of this book fascinating, and I took a couple breaks to look up information. For example, I discovered that dropsy is now known as edema. However, the one-sided conversation format didn't really work for me. ...more
Gina Dalfonzo
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
A clever concept, very well executed. A sad read, but a good one.

(It helps if you know a little something about Beethoven's life and thinking before going in. The introduction doesn't go into much detail, and there are no notes.)
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NYRB Classics: Conversations with Beethoven, by Sanford Friedman 4 38 Sep 02, 2014 01:56PM  

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Sanford Friedman was an American novelist. Friedman published a 1965 novel, Totempole, about Stephen Wolfe, a New York Jew who serves in the army in Korea, where he falls in love with a male prisoner of war. “Totempole” won critical raves, and was praised by novelist Anthony Burgess, who called it the “most candid, and least pornographic, of studies of the genesis of a homosexual.” Friedman follow ...more

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