Hello

Peter Salmon Web Site Introduction Welcome to my website, which has everything you need to know about me. That's right, everything.

Pensive Peter Salmon

Proof of Pudding


What discerning judges have said about The Coffee Story

'It's been a while since I read a first novel that felt as universally accomplished as Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story' - Toby Litt

'I was constantly intoxicated by a sense of desire & loss' - Jake Arnott

'Wild and raucous... an extraordinarily accomplished debut' - Niall Griffiths

'Reminiscent of Phillip Roth's Everyman. But it's much, much funnier' - Sydney Morning Herald

'An exceptional debut' - Martyn Bedford

Hard Sell

Wheels of Cheese #27: Jacqueline du Pre plays the Beethoven Piano Trios Opus 1.

 

I take a moment to reflect on Beethoven’s achievement.

There’s a great story about Leonard Bernstein’s dad, Sam, a hair dressing supplies wholesaler. When Lenny was growing up, Sam kept trying to get him to give up the music and get a respectable job, like a doctor or a dentist or a hair dressing supplies wholesaler, already. Years later, when his son had become one of the greatest conductor/composers/pianists in musical history, he was asked why he tried to stop him pursuing his art. Sam said ‘What am I – a clairvoyant? How did I know he’d turn out to be Leonard Bernstein!’

I thought about that while listening to these awful awful pieces of music, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Opus 1. Young Ludo didn’t know he was going to turn out to be Beethoven when he strode into his publisher’s office in 1793  with this pile of crap. He thought he was just a dude, but dude, dude!, he was no dude. He was Ludwig van Beethoven! We know that, but our hero Mr Stupid Trousers had no idea. Hence this bunch of twaddle.

Oh, sure the pieces are ‘good’. If you like Haydn you’ll be hard as a rock, or wet as, I dunno, a rock that got, I guess, wet. But dear God, what a pretty bunch of nonsense this is. Music for people who don’t like music, but think that one should, shouldn’t one? I guess it was written to be played at one end of a room while people chatted about the French revolution, or maybe the robots of the future. But 200 years on, where are the robots? Still waiting, ‘The Past’!

The disc is rounded out by 14 Variations For Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, and I committed suicide halfway through. Variations! I’m extremely pleased that Christiano Ronaldo can play keepy-uppy with a soccer ball for 16 hours, but I’d rather see him play for Real Madrid against Barca. You’re a composer, one of the best ever, you want me to get excited that you can do variations? Fuck you, Ludwig! Grow up. And as for Jacqueline du Pre, Daniel Barenboim and the violinist Pinchas Zukerman, who decided to waste seventy five minutes and thirty three seconds of their time, and seventy five minutes and thirty three seconds of mine, well fuck you too, you glorious bunch of musical shites.

That said, four stars.

Wheels of Cheese #26: Jacqueline du Pre plays Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 4 in C Major op 102

Beethoven registering at the NHS. Sorry.

This made me SO SAD. Written in 1815, this sonata, and the fifth that followed it, were written as Beethoven emerged from the most fallow and difficult period of his life as a composer. He was beset by money troubles and fighting for custody of his nephew. He lost love – his heartbreaking ‘Letter to the Immortal Beloved’ dates from around this time. And worst of all, his hearing was gone – deafness had overcome him.

Beethoven’s deafness comes to us as biographical tidbit – even those who know nothing of classical music know of Beethoven’s deafness, as they know of Einstein’s hair or Marx’s beard. They are character notes that have become tropes, cliches. That Beethoven lives in legend as larger than life makes this fact about his life appear managable, one of life’s little trials to be overcome.

I felt the same before I found myself reading some of his letters from the period. They are heartbreaking. He writes to his friends apologising for not attending their gatherings – he has to keep to himself more and more these days, because when he is in company he can’t hear what people are saying and it is embarrassing for him. The enforced solitude makes him lonely – no woman will want him, and those that do for a time find it too difficult and leave. And as for music…

In this cello sonata we hear, to my ears, Beethoven groping towards the light. It is a sonata in only two parts, and, unlike the dual movement piano sonata 111, this feels like a renunciation. Beethoven doesn’t know what he is doing. The piece adumbrates between moments of great passion and moments of great repose, but as non sequiturs rather than as a formally constructed and coherent argument. Beethoven doesn’t know what he is doing.

Because he is not yet ‘Late Beethoven’. He has not found the language to express his new circumstances, artistic and emotional. This is just before he makes that step, leaving the rest of the musical world baffled by the extremities of his conception. It is the mark of genius – be it in Nietzsche or Joyce or Heidegger or Picasso – to invent a new language because what one needs to say cannot be said in the old one. There is a lacunae at the start of the second movement of this sonata where the bow is dragged backwards and forwards across the strings, tuneless, aimless and defeated. I could have written it.

And then, late in the movement, an exclamation. We start to move forward again. He is testing the waters, finding a new complexity. Soon we will be in the world of the Hammerklavier, the Missa Solemnis, the Ninth Symphony and the late string quartets. We know that he does that. He doesn’t.

The world has grown up with Ode to Joy – it is a part of our Dreaming. Beethoven in 1815 could not have imagined it. By doing so, not much later, he changed music, and the way we think.

My Bedside Table #6: Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company

Max Havelaar

As a chap who has written his own novel (The Coffee Story!) about the coffee trade, it is to my great shame that I had never heard of Max Havelaar: Or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company before it was given to me by a friend. Regarded as a classic in The Netherlands, it is a novel that seeks to expose the exploitative colonial policies of the Dutch East India company in Java, and is credited by many with being one of the main catalysts for the nationalist movements that led to the end of Dutch Colonialism.

But it is not its political influence that fascinated me about Max Havelaar, commendable as this influence is (boo colonialism!). The book works at a deeper, stranger level – it is, I found, a deep and deeply strange book. Its author Eduard Douwes Dekker was not only seeking to expose the corruption and oppression inherent in the Dutch colonial project. He was also attempting to argue his own case, having resigned from his position in the governmental service in Java in protest over the corruption occuring there.

But rather than tell the story as a simple first or third person narrative, Dekker creates one of the more fabulous pieces of novelistic architecture I have ever encountered. To begin with, Dekker adopts the pseudonym Multatuli, meaning ‘I have suffered much’. This author then begins his novel in the first person voice of Batavus Droogstoppel, coffee trader, who has no truck with fiction or poetry, and speaks with force against both their lack of literal veracity and their tendency to corrupt the mind.

Droogstoppel encounters an old school acquaintance, down on his luck, who he refers to as ‘Scarfman’, due to his lack of proper attire. Scarfman pleads with Droogstoppel for financial support, which is mocked by the putative narrator, a position he never recants. Droogstoppel does, however, come into possession of Scarfman’s notes about (amongst a dazzling array of essay topics of Borgesian variety and pith) his time in the government service in Java, in which the narrator, as a coffee trader, has an interest.

He wishes for these notes to be turned into a book, and employs the son of a German business associate (‘in sugar’) to write it for him. The new narrator Stern (a nod to the author of Tristram Shandy?) writes both floridly and sympathetically, much to Droogstoppel’s disgust. A further layer of complexity is added by the fact that Stern is a German speaker, so his Dutch needs editing, which is done by Droogstoppel’s son and daughter (and, possibly, by Scarfman), each of whom intervenes in the narrative.

When Stern’s prose becomes particularly purple Droogstoppel himself intervenes, apologising to the reader and taking over narration, before yielding again to Stern, whom he hopes has learnt his lesson. Finally, in the last few pages, Multatuli, who is Scarfman, who is Havelaar, who is Dekker, sweeps in angrily and states his own political and authorial position as well as justifying the novel and its complicated structure. Reversing Droogstoppel’s argument for literalness, he argues that the only way to capture the truth of his experiences was precisely through the narrative gambit that is fiction.

This is, therefore, a novel about novels, a deconstruction and celebration of the novelistic form a hundred years before deconstruction. The plurality of voices, the dissonance of their motivations, and the russian doll structure of the framing devices makes a whole that is  at once deeply chaotic and deeply coherent. It is a mad book in the way that Hadrian the Seventh is mad. It is also very funny, incredibly passionate, and full of concern – even worry – for the justification of its premises, with fiction being at once called into question and defended, overtly and covertly. It is absolutely dazzling.

And, like all good books, it’s about coffee. Who could ask for more?