From The YouTube Music Video Archives: Étude Opus 10 no. 11, by Frédéric Chopin

There are lines of connection between all genres of artistic creation, not the least of which is literature and music. In the tradition of ancient Greece they were one and the same, since even the Odyssey was performed to the accompaniment of a lyre (recall the performances of the bards Phemius and Demodocus within the poem). Some of my favorite contemporary writers refer to composers in their books, and it’s been a good way of learning about pieces that I hadn’t known previously. Auden is one of the authors most knowledgeable about opera, and wrote several librettos, including The Rake’s Progress by Igor Stravinsky. Beethoven isn’t just referenced, but is important to the plot (or is at least himself an important leitmotif) in several novels by Milan Kundera.

Music is certainly an important component of Percy’s novels; for me the most telling sentence is from The Moviegoer, when Binx Bolling says, “I listened to the lovely tunes of Mahler and felt a very sickness in my soul. Now I pursue money and on the whole feel better.” (p. 196) I started listening to Mahler because of this sentence, so I can actually blame Percy for a very sickness in my soul. And while I’m at it, I’d like to add that there’s something decidedly Mahler-like about Percy’s novels: all those dead children. Mahler famously wrote the Kindertotenlieder (“Songs on the Death of Children”, based on poems by Friedrich Rückert) four years before his daughter Maria died. Mahler was also a convert to Catholicism. Perhaps I should write “Percy was also” – I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to note this influence of Mahler on Percy. Even in his last novel, The Thanatos Syndrome, children suffer horribly. I’ll find some of the Kindertotenlieder for next week.

There’s a connection between Auden and Percy here as well, since both were close readers of Kierkegaard and no doubt adopted the Dane’s view of music as the apogee of the aesthetic sphere and adapted it for their own needs.

The piece in this video was referenced in The Moviegoer on page 47:

We talk, my aunt and I, in our old way of talking, during pauses in the music. She is playing Chopin. She does not play very well; her fingernails click against the keys. But she is playing one of our favorite pieces, the E-flat Étude. In recent years I have become suspicious of music. When she comes to a phrase which once united us in a special bond and to which I once opened myself as meltingly as a young girl, I harden myself.

Wikipedia has a good introduction to études here.

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