Readersforum's Blog

November 19, 2012

5 Books Inspired by Beethoven’s Fifth

Matthew Guerrieri’s The First Four Notes: Beethoven’s Fifth and the Human Imagination, is a fascinating survey of the many meanings attached to the Fifth, from thinkers like Nietzsche and Sarter, to American transcendentalists and Chinese Maoists, to Nazis and their Allied opponents. Here, Guerrieri tells us how the Fifth has influenced literature.

The upside—and downside—to writing a book about about something as culturally omnipresent as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is that seemingly everybody since has had something to say about it. But its appearances in fiction have been comparatively fleeting, authors perhaps suspicious of the music’s banal familiarity, or its bruising force. (In William Gaddis’s novel JR, the symphony overwhelms the Frigicom process, a noise-reduction technique that freezes excess sound using liquid nitrogen; as the technique’s inventor, swathed in bandages, explains to a government committee, upon freezing the Fifth, the “strident quality of the musical work’s opening bars” proved literally explosive.) Still, a few have taken it on. Here are five novels, both famous and forgotten, that make Beethoven and/or his most recognizable piece a crucial character.

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