Beethoven Confidential & Brahms Gets Laidby Ken Russell
Beethoven Confidential started life as a play that was developed into a screenplay for a film starring Jodie Foster and Glenda Jackson, with Anthony Hopkins as the deaf musical genius Ludwig von Beethoven. It tells the story of the rivalry between two would-be biographers in the quest for the so-called "Immortal Beloved"Beethoven's secret love./i>
Beethoven Confidential started life as a play that was developed into a screenplay for a film starring Jodie Foster and Glenda Jackson, with Anthony Hopkins as the deaf musical genius Ludwig von Beethoven. It tells the story of the rivalry between two would-be biographers in the quest for the so-called "Immortal Beloved"Beethoven's secret love. Personal friends of Beethoven, the biographers become pitted against each other in a race to reveal the mysterious lover. The film was never made but the mystery is solved in this novel about the great composer. It is a story that Ken Russell considers to be one of the most bizarre and compelling detective yarns of all time. Johannes Brahms was renowned for his three B'sbeer, beard, and belly. Tradition has it that Brahms died a confirmed bachelor and a respected pillar of society who liked nothing better than a pint in the evening and a walk through the Black Forest at weekends. But what of his sex life? According to Ken Russell, "Brahms probably knew more about sex than any composer before or since." The evidence is in the music: for sheer sensuality try the inner movements of his Third Symphony, or the opening of his First Symphony ("tell me if that doesn't have balls") or a section in the Fourth that can only be described as "the sex act set to music." But the composer’s early life tells us more. Born in the red-light district of Hamburg, Brahms spent his formative years playing piano in city brothels. Brahms Gets Laid investigates his close association with insane genius Robert Schumann and his even closer relationship with the psychologically disturbed Clara Schumann and her daughters.
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Beethoven Confidential and Brahms Gets Laid
By Ken Russell
Peter Owen LTDCopyright © 2007 Ken Russell
All rights reserved.
VIENNA, 28 MARCH 1827
Beethoven, draped in a sheet, lies dead on a piano. He is surrounded by the shambles in which he perpetually lived. Frugal furniture, shabby curtains, a rickety four-poster, crates of wine, boxes of manuscript paper and piles of clothing. The place suggests a junk shop rather than a respectable apartment in the tenement where the composer spent his last remaining days.
Dr Warwuch, an elderly and highly respected physician, is preparing for the autopsy. He will shortly be making an incision above Beethoven's left ear. But first the head must be shaved, and he sharpens a razor.
Near by, Danhauser, a round-shouldered little man, and his skeletal assistant Tantfl are stirring a mixture from which the death mask will be made. Danhauser regards Dr Warwuch with mistrust.
'Don't mess him up too much or they'll never recognize him,' he urges. 'I've seen your autopsies before.'
'I am about to probe the secret of his genius for the benefit of humanity,' proclaims Dr Warwuch. 'You are about to create a superficial effigy for the morbid to gape at in some tawdry waxworks for the benefit of your own pocket. Pray desist.'
While Danhauser scowls and stirs his plaster more violently a dapper little man whom it transpires is an auctioneer politely takes the razor out of the doctor's hand, examines the blade and turns to his bespectacled assistant who is cataloguing the effects.
'Item: one razor, finest Ruhr steel, property Ludwig van Beethoven. Actually used to shave the deceased.' He returns it to the doctor. 'Not absolutely essential. You clean it after use. Thank you, doctor.'
His assistant hands the auctioneer a dog-eared notebook.
'There are twenty-six of these, sir, full of scribble. Shall I dispose of them in one lot?'
'Good heavens, no,' exclaims the auctioneer. 'Conversation books, valuable items – proof he was deaf.' He moves on, pecking through the jumble like a magpie while two shadowy figures creep around the room hissing and whispering conspiratorially. They appear to be searching for something; through bookshelves, under carpets, beneath cushions, behind pictures, in desks and drawers and through piles of manuscripts. They ransack everything neatly but methodically. They are not thieves but friends of Beethoven's though not of each other, which soon becomes evident, as does the object of their search. Anton Schindler, middle-aged, tall, spectral and opinionated, regards himself as Beethoven's official biographer and is jealous of Karl Holtz not only for the fact that he is good-looking and twenty years younger but also for the more intimate relationship he enjoyed with the composer.
'Perhaps he deposited them at the bank. That would be the logical thing to do,' whispers Schindler.
'Then that's the last place we should look,' mutters Holtz. 'Have you looked in his shoes?'
'Of course not!' snaps Schindler.
'He was forever stuffing them with anything that came to hand to try to keep out the wet,' explains Holtz. 'I'll never forget the night he was to conduct the première of the Seventh Symphony. Couldn't find the Finale anywhere. We turned the place upside down. Nowhere! Until the maidservant found it tucked in his shoe.'
Schindler is envious that he did not witness the scene himself. 'Ah, but do you know which shoe?'
'Left foot, right foot, what does it signify?'
'Everything about Beethoven is significant,' retorts Schindler.
'Even his whores?' asks Holtz sarcastically. 'Will you touch on their significance in your "official biography", Herr Schindler?'
'What possible relevance could they have to his art?'
'I suppose it depends on their pedigree.'
Schindler can sense trouble brewing and continues the search next door in the bedroom, followed by Holtz, who enjoys ribbing him. 'Will you mention Countess Erdody, for instance?'
'Of course,' says Schindler loftily.
'And Elsa Schmitt – will you mention her?'
'That trollop. Certainly not! How can you even ask?' replies Schindler in disgust.
'They were both very close to Beethoven,' says Holtz with a shrug. 'One lived in a palace, the other in a brothel, that's all.'
'Eureka!' shouts Schindler triumphantly as a loose nail he has been fiddling with on the writing desk comes away in his hand, releasing a secret drawer that drops on to the floor scattering its contents at the feet of the two startled rivals.
As Schindler makes a dive for the prize, a pile of valuable bank shares, Holtz kneels at his side and picks up an assortment of papers covered in scribbled pencil. Schindler makes a grab for them, but Holtz swiftly whisks them out of his reach.
'What have you there?' hisses Schindler. 'Those papers may be of a private nature.'
'Then who better than an old friend to peruse them first?' says Holtz, backing away. 'They may be unfit for publication.'
'Let me be the judge of that.'
'I'd rather turn them over to the auctioneer!' Holtz calls over his shoulder through to the next room, 'Is the auctioneer there?'
Danhauser looks up from his bucket of plaster and replies, 'Gone to lunch.'
'No, please, no,' begs Schindler, following Holtz into the room.
'For God's sake calm down, man,' urges Holtz. 'It would be foolish in the extreme for us to cross swords over what might transpire to be nothing but a shopping list.' Even so he crouches against the wall to prevent the envious Schindler from looking over his shoulder, his eyes racing over the papers.
'A scrap of trivia in a secret drawer. What nonsense!' scoffs Schindler.
'Trivia, eh? Everything is significant – except sex, yes?' says Holtz, moving rapidly away from Schindler, who quickly follows him. 'Listen to this!
... my Angel, my all, my very self ... why this deep sorrow when necessity speaks – can our love endure except through sacrifices? Through not demanding everything from one another; can you change the fact that you are not wholly mine, I not wholly yours. We shall surely see each other again soon ... my heart is full of so many things to say to you – ah – there are moments when I feel that speech amounts to nothing at all – cheer up – remain my true, my only treasure, my all as I am yours.
Your faithful Ludwig
'What do you make of that?' As Holtz comes to a halt and turns on him, the gangling Schindler snatches the letter away and scrutinizes it for clues.
'No address, no name. Just Monday 6 July – damn it, not even the year. The man's impossible! Now we shall never know her identity. I wonder why he never sent it.'
'Of course he sent it,' argues Holtz. 'This must be a rough copy or a first draft. It's extraordinary, Schindler. In all the years of our acquaintance I never knew him to express himself as strongly as this about anything – certainly not a woman, and he knew quite a few in his time.'
But Schindler has just caught sight of the doctor shaving Beethoven's skull and is momentarily at a loss for words, allowing Holtz to continue.
'Here's more: "My thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us – I can live only wholly with you or not at all."'
'Well, he did live without her, didn't he?' Schindler remarks.
'Did he?' asks Holtz, looking quizzically at the dead man. 'It's a mystery. And why the secret drawer? A guilty liaison with a married woman, perhaps?'
But even before Schindler has time to refute such a claim Holtz catches sight of an exquisite miniature (which must have tumbled from the drawer as it hit the floor) and snatches it up. Then, fearful of the prying eyes of the auctioneer, he retreats to the bedroom to study his trophy in private with the irate Schindler hot on his heels.
'All right, that's enough,' blurts out Schindler after Holtz has been studying the miniature for an age. 'Give it here.'
As he relinquishes it, Holtz poses the question, 'I wonder, is this the Immortal Beloved?'
Schindler scrutinizes the portrait of a striking young woman wearing a turban but displays no sign of recognition. 'Poor craftsmanship, the work of an amateur,' he says dismissively. 'Could be anyone.'
'It's very similar to a portrait I once saw of Therese von Brunswick.'
Unable to make a similar claim, Schindler is piqued. 'If that should be the case you can rule her out immediately.'
Schindler gives a superior smile. 'She became a nun. I'd say the candidate for your Immortal Beloved was her cousin, Countess Giulietta Guicciardi.'
'On whose authority? Not the Countess herself, surely ...'
'No, I never met her,' admits Schindler, 'but I heard from the mouth of Beethoven himself that at one time he was madly in love with her. And there was cause for secrecy – the obstacle being her father. Now may I kindly see the remaining documents? We've wasted enough time in idle speculation as it is.'
Grateful to his reluctant colleague for providing a clue to a mystery that is beginning to intrigue him, Holtz relinquishes some of the papers with a smile. 'Certainly, old man, you may be right. It could be Giulietta. After all, she did inspire the most romantic music he ever wrote.'
'This is interesting,' enthuses Schindler, ignoring him and reading away. 'Listen to this.'
But Holtz has already turned away from him and is drifting back to the music room, totally absorbed with the yellowing pages, which he handles with the utmost care. He can almost imagine Beethoven himself speaking the words dashed off with passion so many years ago.
Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say ... that I am really at home with you, and can ... send my soul enwrapped in you on to the Lord of Spirits. No one else can ever possess my heart – never, never, oh God, why must one be parted from one whom one so loves ... And yet my life in Vienna is now a wretched life.
And there, almost within reach, the author of those ardent feelings lies cold and lifeless as Dr Warwuch drills a hole in his bare skull with clinical precision.
Holtz's eyes brim with tears as he reads on.
... your love makes me at once the happiest and unhappiest of men – at my age I need a steady quiet life – can that be so in our connection? Be calm, only by a calm consideration of our existence can we achieve our purposes to live together – be calm – love me – today – yesterday – tomorrow – what tearful longings I have for you – my life, my all, farewell ... Oh continue to love me – never misjudge the most faithful heart of your beloved, ever thine, ever mine, ever ours – Ludwig.
From nowhere a hand appears and snatches the letters from him. Now it is Schindler's turn to make a cold and factual appraisal. Holtz makes no effort to retrieve them. A macabre sound has distracted him. Fascinated, he turns to see the doctor sawing away methodically at Beethoven's skull. Soon he would be examining the Master's brain. Oh, that he could reveal the sight and soul of Giulietta irretrievably lost in those grey, congealing cells.CHAPTER 2
Moonlight filtering through elegant windows hints at surroundings of great luxury. In silhouette a pretty teenager is seated at the piano playing music of great serenity, music that seems to be a manifestation of the very atmosphere itself. Naturally, it could only be the 'Moonlight' Sonata. And on the floor at the young lady's feet lies the shadowy figure of none other than the composer himself. Yes, it is Beethoven at the age of thirty, with one ear pressed hard to the carpeted floor and one hand gripping the shapely ankle of Giulietta Guicciardi, with whom he is very much in love. The serene music, soft moonlight and utter tranquillity of the couple conspire to conjure up a scene of strange intimacy that is shattered by the opening of the door and a flood of light.
The intruder is Count Guicciardi, a sombre man in his late forties, cold and aloof. Too well bred to show the displeasure he feels at the sight of his daughter's untidy guest sprawled unashamedly on the floor grasping her ankle, he remains silent. Beethoven lies still, leaving Giulietta to deal with the situation as she continues to play.
'Oh, Father ... I did not hear your knock.'
Having gently admonished her father, Giulietta plays a few more bars before proffering an explanation. 'Ludwig's music comes from both heaven and earth, Father, which is why he likes to keep an ear to the ground.'
The Count is incensed by Beethoven's arrogance not only in refusing to acknowledge his presence but in retaining his hold on Giulietta's ankle. 'And a finger on the pulse of his public, I see,' he remarks dryly. 'When you are satiated with the food of love, my child, perhaps you and your guest would care to join me in a meal of a more conventional nature.'
Then, as the Count bows and silently closes the door behind him, Beethoven kisses Giulietta's ankle, gets to his feet and sits beside her on the piano stool. The moment of intimacy created by the music has passed.
'What did he say?' asks Beethoven.
'Surely you heard?'
'I heard only the music.'
'Musicians usually stand up when he enters the room. This is a new experience for him.'
'And one he is obviously not yet ready for. I shouldn't have come here.'
A shadow of pique crosses Giulietta's face. She stops playing. 'You had to meet eventually. We can't go on trysting secretly in Vienna for ever. We need his blessing.'
Giulietta averts a familiar argument by changing the subject. 'Do you habitually listen to music on the floor?'
'It depends on the ankles. You played it well.'
'I did nothing. The music flowed like an electric current. I felt it.'
Beethoven takes the score off the music rest and presents her with it. 'It's yours. I give it to you.'
Giulietta is lost for words. She is overwhelmed by the generosity of his gift. Beethoven kisses her full on the mouth, and she responds ardently.
In a setting rivalling the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the remnants of an exquisite meal are being cleared away by an army of servants. Beethoven, a bit drunk, sips brandy and picks his teeth with a candle snuffer. This amuses Giulietta as much as it appals the Count, who for the moment does not betray his true feelings.
'Van Beethoven ... sounds vaguely aristocratic,' remarks the Count. 'Did your ancestors own land?'
Beethoven's reply verges on the arrogant. 'No, they worked it. They were peasants. Beethoven – beet-basher in Flemish. The van? Alas, Count, not the same as the noble 'von' – as if true nobility can be stamped in the womb! So you see, Count, here you are trying to be civil to a man who is neither "noble" nor – worse – Viennese.'
The Count tries a little sarcasm. 'You would perhaps prefer that we address each other as "comrade".'
Beethoven is unphased. 'Count, you can call me "prole" for all I care, and I'll reserve the right to call you what I like. Names signify nothing. Beethoven, Bacchus, Bonaparte – ah, there's a combination – music, wine, brotherhood!'
'You laud a name that could bring the world crashing about our ears.'
Beethoven replies with a grin. 'Your world, not mine.'
Giulietta watches their growing antagonism with delight, and though she deems it prudent to remain silent she obviously takes the side of the radical.
'Think of it – a united Europe; frontiers broken down,' enthuses Beethoven. 'The brotherhood of man! Is there any finer thing on God's earth, eh? Think, Count, what wonders, yet inconceivable, might be seen when a man – any man – celebrated for no other reason than that he is a man and not a monkey may be free to express himself, develop, grow, create! Given such liberty, what wonders might a man conceive? It's the new age, Count. I'd like to meet this Bonaparte. He's ambitious, but not just for himself – d'ye see that? He's for glory, but for all people. A self-made man, by God! And no silver nappy pins. You fear this? Why, for God's sake?'
Excerpted from Beethoven Confidential and Brahms Gets Laid by Ken Russell. Copyright © 2007 Ken Russell. Excerpted by permission of Peter Owen LTD.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Ken Russell is one of the most original, vibrant, and groundbreaking directors of the recent era. His finest films such as The Devils, The Music Lovers, and Women in Love are milestones in film history. A true visionary, Russell’s workinvariably involving a very liberal treatment of sexualityhas always struggled with censorship and controversy. Although he is remembered for the rock opera Tommy and recently directed an innovative production of Madam Butterfly, Russell started out making drama documentaries on the lives of the great composers for the BBC series Monitor in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
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