Beethoven Unhappy

by Bob Bradshaw
The Writer's Block
Third Place, July 2020
Judged by Ron Singer

To view the trees​
across from his apartment,​
Uncle hired a stonemason​
to knock a hole in a wall.​

The landlord, enraged,​
demanded Uncle move.​

He couldn’t satisfy critics​
anymore than landlords.​
Why can’t you compose​
more like Haydn–​
or Mozart?“​

His orchestras were unhappy,​
always plotting rebellions against him​
for his unplayable scores.​

His neighbors​
would confront him late at night,​
Uncle in his underwear.​

He would squint at them​
like a misanthrope​
confronting beggars.​

His answer to their complaints?​
A slammed door.​

Years after his death​
they still recall his music,​
restless as surf​
rumbling across their ceilings.​

Groggy, they would bang​
on the landlord’s door​
the next morning​
with their usual complaint​
about the awful​

The narrator is the composer’s nephew, Karl, whom music history remembers primarily as the object of a fractious custody dispute. In this poem, however, Karl offers us a portrait of the human side of the great composer (“Uncle in his underwear”), a man who could not get along with his musicians, his critics, or, especially, his neighbors.

The portrait is intimate and particular: “He would squint at them/like a misanthrope/confronting beggars.” And, as the years pass, these neighbors recall the subject of complaint, “the awful/noise,” with greater appreciation: “restless as surf/rumbling across their ceilings.”

Thus, the poem is primarily a genre painting. Its unobtrusively metrical form complements the matter-of-fact tone. Yet some of the word pictures are very vivid, such as the opening: “To view the trees/across from his apartment/Uncle hired a stonemason/to knock a hole in a wall.” --Ron Singer