Helping Beethoven

LEROY OSTRANSKY is a native New Yorker who is note composer-in-residence at the College of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

In a recent issue of a magazine, the Stow & Davis Furniture Company, of Grand Rapids, introduces a two-page advertisement headed “What I did for Beethoven, I can do for you!” This bold statement is followed by the even bolder signature of George W. Reinoehl, executive vice president of the Executive Furniture Guild of America. “One afternoon,” Reinoehl goes on to tell us, “as I sat all alone listening to Beethoven’s Ninth, I got to thinking what sheer genius the man must have had to accomplish so much under such primitive working conditions — handicapped by clutter, poor workspace, drafts, noise and bad lighting.

“So ... I picked up my sketch pad — just for fun and designed the poor fellow an office worthy of his greatness, with every detail as personal as his scrawl on a manuscript. Ludwig, I think, would have been happy here.”

Immediately below this apologia is a reproduction of Reinoehl’s work — office-wise. That the reproduction is the filmland version of Beethoven’s office is a fair assumption. Held at arm’s length the office picture appears to be uncluttered, spacious, warm, quiet, sanguine. Nevertheless, one suspects there is something wrong with the picture; after careful study, one’s suspicions are confirmed.

Right off, let me say that I have no quarrel with Reinoehl. His intentions are, I believe, admirable. He set out only to give an old genius a decent place to work, a place he could call his own. But I’m afraid Reinoehl got carried away; he allowed his executive orientation to guide his hand.

Resting against a sun-drenched long east wall is the quiet excitement of a high-fidelity record-player-radio-television rig; a decanter, a quartet of tuned drinking glasses, and a tall, faintly tropical plant in an easy-to-live-with jardiniere help solve this difficult long-wall problem. In the center of the office (off-center, really) opposite the mass communication facilities is the great composer’s swivel chair in extrovert green with that woven fabric look, and his honest desk, complete with executive-type double fountain-pen set, desk blotter, and flip-top daily calendar pad. At this point it may be proper to point out that composers, even old ones, don’t use desk sets; they use special music-writing pens or pens with stub points, which they dip into ink, just like Beethoven did. The desk blotter with the padded edges isn’t likely to find favor with composers who write long pieces like the Ninth Symphony.

Occupying the west wall and corner — hidden from the five-sectioned floor-to-ceiling window that gives onto warm, gentle, green fields and, in the distance, golden skyscrapers— is a sectional sofa, fashionably low backed, deeply buttontufted, fearfully asymmetric. A white-tiled coffee table, with its jonquil-filled crystal bowl and important ash tray, invites Western living. Oh, yes — in the foreground a small grand, in coffee walnut, displays a small sheet of manuscript on the piano rack.

By now it is obvious that Reinoehl is not one of these poor old-fashioned fellows who believes that the office ought to seek the man. It is something to say for his ability to make important and split-second decisions that no composer was asked whether Beethoven, or any other composer, could function properly in Beethoven’s office. Composers (except as they are seen composing in the movies) go berserk when they are forced to write music on a piano music rack — it offers no support for the top of a manuscript page. (In all fairness, it is only right to report that the manuscript on Beethoven’s piano does seem the right size for a singing commercial.) A narrow music rack is calculated to make a composer nervous; a nervous composer wants to smoke. I must therefore ask Reinoehl to please move the important ash tray from the coffee table to the top of the piano.

Because I believe that Reinoehl is sincere and wall undoubtedly go on to design other offices for other poor fellows, one of whom may turn out to be a composer, I wish to make one more observation.

A serious and thoughtful composer spends most of his time at his desk. Therefore, I must ask that another ash tray be supplied for the desk. Now, please move the decanter to the desk. Swivel the desk chair so it faces the record player. Fill his glass, light his cigarette, and turn on Beethoven’s Ninth.