cover image The Music: Stories about Music

The Music: Stories about Music

James Hamilton-Paterson, Rudolf Steiner. Random House UK, $17.95 (266pp) ISBN 978-0-224-04195-9

In 1989, Hamilton-Paterson won wide recognition for Gerontius, his novel of Edward Elgar's journey up the Amazon. Now, in a virtuoso performance, he once again uses his love of music to unify these tales. These are entertaining and original variations on such themes as the nature of art, the wellspring of creativity and the evanescence of genius set in a variety of far-flung places, from the Philippines to North Africa. In ""The Last Picnic,"" an escaped lunatic who says he is Schumann interrupts a family picnic, leaving behind a sad, fantastic memory that haunts a small child. In ""Knight,"" an aristocratic major held as a POW in North Vietnam remains steadfast in the face of all kinds of torture, but in a final, dreamlike sequence he finds himself sitting outside the home of an amateur musician whose playing of Bach brings the major to tears; ""Suddenly the possibility of staying alive was hugely precious.... Being a knight was not the only way of spending a life."" The issue of creativity is raised in ""Farts and Longing,"" one of a two-century-long series of interviews between the narrator and Mozart. In a crescendo of complaint, the querulous Mozart decries critics' inability to comprehend the act of creation, and the way Mozart's music, like his farts, come from a yearning to squeeze out his strongest essence. Like links in a chain, these stories work together beautifully, gaining strength from their unifying theme and Hamilton-Patterson's superb writing. (Nov.)