Beethoven and the meaning of Life: the Secession in Vienna

Klimt and Beethoven: how my thriller “Eternal Life” brings them together

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

Klimt and Beethoven and The Grateful Dead all come together in my sci-fi thriller “Eternal Life”.  

I wrote a while ago about “7 ways to explain the meaning of life” (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

The meaning of life

I said that the meaning of life would emerge around 80% of the way through my novel Eternal Life; and that it involved “Come Celebrate with Us” and “The Kiss”.

The Secession in Vienna: home to the Beethoven frieze

Wiener Secession, 2015 – Photo: Robert Pimm

Klimt and Beethoven in Vienna

I live in Vienna. Since I lived here in the ’80s the wonderful Secession building built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich has a new basement housing Gustav Klimt’s magnificent Beethoven frieze, based on the Ninth Symphony, which, to quote Wikipedia, “illustrates the human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world”.

Isn’t that the meaning of life?

The text of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is of course written in German, being from Schiller’s Ode to Joy of 1785.  There are plenty of translations on the Internet – I liked one which included the translator’s note: “I include this short reference to aid those trying to understand one of the towering achievements of human civilization”.

The yearning for happiness

The three themes of Klimt’s frieze – The Yearning for Happiness, The Hostile Forces, and This Kiss to the Whole World – echo the themes of Coronattime.  The hero of Eternal Life, Jake Parker, listens to Beethoven’s 9th as he heads off to execute his the ill-fated termination contract for ‘Time-expired Jennifer at the start of the novel (later in the book, he will listen to the equally relevant Grateful Dead, whose successors, The Long-Dead Masters of the Disharmonic Wave, are a popular One Lifer band in Eternal Life).  Finally, Jake may, perhaps, find that what he has been chasing all his life will not bring him happiness; but something else just might.

The parallels between Klimt, Beethoven and Eternal Life are not surprising.  I conceived the story in Vienna; Klimt was Viennese; and while Beethoven was born in Bonn (where I lived in 1998-99) he is buried in Vienna’s magnificent Central Cemetery.

The Central Cemetery

I visited the Central Cemetery, or Zentralfriedhof, on All Saints in 1986, and later wrote a piece expressing my emotions on seeing the countless elderly people, mostly women, who were out lighting candles on the graves of their loved ones.  Despite its name, the cemetery is miles out of the city.  I remember humming Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the edge of town” to myself.  If you ever get a chance to visit Vienna, I recommend the cemetery.

But most of all, I recommend Eternal Life.  Read it.  Tell me what you think.  I’m crazy about it but I’m sure it could be improved.  All ideas welcome.

If you would like to have a look at my other writing, see my most recent books.

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