Finding Harmony, Literally, in Fiction About Music | Modern Society of USA

Finding Harmony, Literally, in Fiction About Music

Finding Harmony, Literally, in Fiction About Music

Discord, however, and notes of longing accompany a gathering of aspiring high school musicians at a prestigious annual festival inside an imposing but dilapidated hotel in “Bellweather Rhapsody,” Kate Racculia’s sweet, dark and quirky double mystery (with plenty of authentic music nerdery).

The oddball charms of Racculia’s novel have nothing on the unusual form and subject of “The Big Music,” Kirsty Gunn’s novel of the Highland bagpipe. The New Zealand-born author (who is now a professor at the University of Dundee in Scotland, and is best-known in the United States for “Rain,” her slim, heartbreaking novel of sibling love) divides “The Big Music” into movements, and the novel’s patterning of language (which reminds me, in parts, of Woolf’s “The Waves”) has all the lilt and rhythm of a score.

The World on a String

Music is so intrinsic to the narrative of Louis de Bernières’s sweeping, baroque World War II novel, “Corelli’s Mandolin” — with its evocations of composers including Hummel, Vivaldi and Beethoven, and tremolos and glissandos plucked on a string instrument named Antonia — that the book inspired a soundtrack played on a guitar and mandolin: “Music From the Novels of Louis de Bernières.”

More mandolin music — played by a supporting character, Juan Tellamantez — echoes throughout passages of “The Song of the Lark,” Willa Cather’s novel about the life of Thea Kronberg, an opera singer from Moonstone, Colo. The instrument’s gentle twang, “a golden pool” of sunlight on the floor as Thea sings a hymn, even the sound of the sea within a conch shell: Each sensory experience seems to color the protagonist’s consciousness as she matures as a performing artist.

Beyond Measures

Exacting narratives composed by two acclaimed novelists capture layers of virtuosity and unexpected comedy in their intricate arrangements. In William H. Gass’s “Middle C,” a job at a record store (the High Note) in rural Ohio gives a young, mediocre piano student named Joey Skizzen an education that grows “by octaves,” and launches this “snob in motion” on a path to becoming a professor of music. And in the fiction of the Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro — notably his story “Cellists,” from the collection “Nocturnes,” and his massive, dizzying novel “The Unconsoled” — variations on the natures of performers and their (often adoring) audiences build to an immersive literary symphony.

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