Sunday, February 14, 2016

Words and Music, Take Two

Writing About Music (Revised 3-6-16)

The characters in my books are musicians, generally performers of classical music, and since music is a vital part of their lives I attempt to use words to show the reader some of the music they love. This music can be so magnificent and so complex that it’s not easy to give a reader a sense of how overwhelmingly beautiful it is. 

It’s gratifying to read in a review that even though the reviewer is not versed in classical music, they found the descriptions enhanced the story. So I must have given them at least an indication of how much a character’s life is dependent on this love of music which drives them to perform.

Here’s a brief section from my work in progress, which until recently has had the working title Jamie’s Children.  Jamie Logan, stellar operatic tenor worldwide, is father to Laura, a violin virtuoso, and her younger brother Niall, who despite his bipolar disorder discovers his own music as a folk singer-songwriter.

A family friend and renowned accompanist has been Laura’s mentor since her gift was discovered at the age of four. A child prodigy himself, pianist Eli Levin becomes Laura’s mentor and is an important part of her life: he understands her as no one else can because of the common bond they share. When Laura is fifteen he dies unexpectedly at the age of forty-one, and it takes Laura years to understand the repercussions of that loss.

Some years later she performs a work at the Aspen Music Festival with pianist Anita Foscari, who later becomes Laura’s accompanist. This is an excerpt from Jamie’s Children. Laura and Anita are rehearsing Poulenc’s sonata for violin and piano. (This sonata is a personal favorite of mine, and I enjoyed listening to it repeatedly as I wrote this section. Yes, a very difficult part of my work – listening to wonderful music!)

(This section of the book has been revised. If you read the original, it might be interesting to see what I did with the revision.)

     “Well, Poulenc called this a sonata for violin and piano, but I think of it as a piece for piano and violin. You have at least as much music as I do.”
     The two women were hard at work on Laura’s solo recital, and played straight through the sonata. They smiled at each other when they finished and Laura said, “Let’s see what we need to do with this intriguing piece.”
     “First movement was a little rough,” Anita commented.  “Lots of changes … not just in tempo. Sometimes the entire mood is totally different.”
     “Yes, two different styles at play here. Some real musical humor and then some really nice lyrical stuff. And the transitions are a little tricky.” Laura stood by the piano and pointed to different passages with the tip of her bow as she talked.
     “I have to be careful not to cover you at times. He’s written a very strong piano part here … and here,” Anita said, flipping pages and indicating the passages she meant.
     Laura’s favorite was the second movement, in which Poulenc provided one gorgeous, lyrical moment after another, and she and Anita both let themselves soar with what the composer provided them. The movement seemed to drift away on a final moment of haunting tenderness.
     When Laura had first learned the piece, she read that the sonata was intended for performance by a young French violinist, Ginette Neveu; but when she died tragically young at thirty in an airplane crash, the composer made revisions which reflected his reaction to her premature death. Laura felt a definite connection to the piece because of her own experience with a great artist who had died prematurely.
     The last movement was bittersweet and tinged with sadness, ending with a uniquely wistful coda. Laura tried to reflect what she thought Poulenc had wanted to convey, a farewell to the violinist for whom he had composed it. She heard the sweetness as she drew a plaintive sound from the strings with her bow and as she held the final note, she let it grow softer and fade away to nothing.
Photo: Rocky Mountains National Park (NPS)

If this excerpt has intrigued you, you can read more about Eli Levin in Eli's Heart, and about Jamie Logan in You Are My Song. Both books are available on Amazon. You can connect through my website, I'd love for you to visit!