Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Bust of Beethoven

"A majestic bust—the bust of Beethoven—perched above me. At the time I didn’t hardly know who or what Beethoven was. Anyhow, I was so scared that it made my hair curl. The bust seemed to gaze fiercely at the air with them marble eyes, eyes as intense as they was vacant. "

This, in Anita's voice, is the first time we see the bust of Beethoven in my novel My Own Voice.

From the beginning, this bust is more than a mere decorative object; it is, in fact, nearly a character, with a special relationship to Anita. It represents where the previous wife, Natasha, came from--a world of music and inspiration, from where the bust stares down, as if in contempt, at the unrefined, uncultured Anita. But just like a character, the bust of Beethoven undergoes a change as we travel along the arc of the story. Once the white piano has disappeared from the scene, the bust is out of place. Here is the way Ben describes the change:

"My father would rub his eyes, amazed to discover Beethoven's bust planted down there, in the dust, on the floor, its eyes frozen in dumb confusion. Discarded. No longer perched on top, it seems to have shrunk—or else the space has, somehow, ballooned around it.
The marble head seems cropped by a beam of light on one side, and a pile of music notebooks on the other. The sculpted shoulders lean against streaks of peeling wallpaper, blackened streaks that have previously gone unnoticed, crumbling away in the shadows, behind the bulk of the piano, which is now missing."

From this point on, Beethoven becomes a silent witness to the goings on in this family. And not a willing witness, mind you, as described by Anita, in her tongue-in-cheek manner:

"By the time Lenny returns from the door, I’ve crossed the floor on all four, all the way to Beethoven, and turned him around so he don’t face us no more, and instead he points his nose at the corner, and I’ve come right back to lay, in a foxy pose, on them pillows...
It’s not only me wondering about it—it’s Beethoven as well, his blank eyes following every one of our moves from down there, on the floor, like he’s annoyed at his bad luck, having to witness all this—and in slow motion, too!—and his neck, despite being solid, must be terribly cramped, and like, he hopes to be relieved of that pain pretty soon, and stretch his neck, and could we please stop idling there like some tired old couple, and come stomping off in his direction, and break it already."

In the watercolor, I rendered the bust in blue colors, as befits a thing of marble, a character really, one that tries to keep a cool head, so to speak, in an environment that has been whipped with a whirlwind of passion, guilt, blame and grief.


  1. Reminds me of my piano lessons-the busts staring at me from the flat part of my teacher's old black instrument.

  2. That iconic bust is the image we all associate of Beethoven, but it comes decades after his death. If you find paintings and drawings from his life, he was a rather unremarkable normal looking German man.

    1. I am only too happy to learn from you about Beethoven, Craig. This painting is the first of two, the second one is still in my mind...