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Summer Online Festival continues with music critic Paul Griffiths

in conversation with Rick Whitaker

The Italian Academy’s Rick Whitaker asks music critic and novelist Paul Griffiths about Mr. Beethoven, his fantastic new novel forthcoming from publisher New York Review Books.


Paul Griffiths, OBE, is a British music critic, novelist, and librettist. He is particularly noted for his writings on modern classical music and for having written the libretti for two 20th century operas, Tan Dun's Marco Polo and Elliott Carter's What Next? He joined the editorial staff of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians in 1973 and in 1982 became the chief music critic for The Times (London), a post which he held for ten years. From 1992 to 1996, he was a music critic for The New Yorker, and from 1997 to 2005, for The New York Times. A collection of his musical criticism for these and other periodicals was published in 2005 as The substance of things heard: writings about music.

In 1978, he also began writing reference books and monographs on classical music and composers starting with Modern music: A Concise History from Debussy to Boulez. Although the majority of these publications have dealt with 20th-century composers and their music, he has also written more general works on classical music, including The String Quartet: A History (1985), The Penguin Companion to Classical Music (2005), and A Concise History of Western Music (2006). The last of these has been translated into seven languages.

Griffiths has been a guest lecturer at institutions including the University of Southern California, IRCAM, Oxford University, Harvard University, Cornell University (Messenger Lectures, 2008) and the City University of New York Graduate Center (Old Lecture, 2013). He was named a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2002 and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2011, when he also won a Deems Taylor Award for his notes for Miller Theatre.

In 1989, Griffiths published his first novel, Myself and Marco Polo: A Novel of Changes, which went on to win the 1990 Commonwealth Writers' Prize. The novel is a fictional version of Marco Polo's memoirs. Two years later, he published The Lay of Sir Tristram, a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult legend. Griffiths's third novel, let me tell you (2008), uses a constrained writing technique similar to those employed by the avant-garde Oulipo group. In let me tell you , Ophelia tells her story in a first-person narrative devised by Griffiths using only the 481-word vocabulary given to her in Shakespeare's Hamlet. His new novel, Mr. Beethoven, has been published in the UK and is forthcoming from the publisher New York Review Books.

Griffiths was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to music, literature, and composition.

Event Date 
Sat, Aug 29, 2020, 5:00 pm

Available on our website through September 1.

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