Music in the novel, May 1812

Decades ago, there was a riotously funny movie called How to Murder Your Wife, in which Jack Lemmon played a cartoonist who never had his cartoon alter-ego do anything which he had not done himself.  Which led to the abovementioned difficulty implicit in the film’s title.

And while I must assure you there are many things in my novels which I have not done and will never do–I leave you to guess what these are–as far as the music goes, I make every effort to write as it were from the inside of knowledge. 

Thus, the music and songs, from the first introduction to it when one character is playing two plaints by Purcell, through the Haydn sonatas mentioned, to the lieder as German songs are generally known–all of it  in May 1812 belongs to my repertoire.  (I’m a pianist and accompanist.)

Two of the lieder, in particular, would have to feature in any list I might compile of favourites:  Ich liebe dich by Beethoven, and Trennungslied by Mozart.  The music to both was available in England at the time, but what I love about them both is they both confound expectations. 

To those who believe that Mozart wrote little but froth and was incapable of writing music which expressed the darker emotions of rage, despair and emotional loss, Trennungslied proves them wrong.  Likewise, Ich liebe dich is one of the tenderest love songs ever written and shows a side of Beethoven we rarely encounter.

As for the instruments mentioned–I’ve played on fortepianos many times.  The sound is softer, and doesn’t carry as does a modern pianoforte.  The action is also softer, at least on those I’ve played. 

Virginals, by contrast, have a pluckier action, quite literally–or a harder, slower action, but to play Purcell on virginals, is quite simply a delight.

And when the characters are talking about practising, or discussing how they worked toward performance of a song, that’s, er, me talking actually…

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5 comments on “Music in the novel, May 1812

  1. junebugger says:

    I like that you try to experience everything you write. There’s more…hmm…feeling, depth…to your writing.

    Ich liebe dich–our music teacher, back in highschool, made us sing this song. It really is a beautiful song. I love Beethoven. Whenever I listen to his works, it makes me wonder, what inspired him to compose this?

    I just remembered Mozart’s Requiem. Isn’t this pretty dark as well?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I think, because so much is made of Beethoven’s struggle with deafness and the isolation of his later years, it can be easy to forget that he was once a young man, the musical toast of Vienna and beyond–renowned for his breathtaking ingenuity and versatility in performing variations on the spot–just sitting down at the fortepiano and improvising. He was a musical celebrity. There would have been lots of women and girls who flirted with him, had crushes on him, talked their fathers into letting them have lessons with him. And no doubt he fancied them right back.

      • junebugger says:

        I imagine that would be the case. I don’t know how accurate “Immortal Beloved” is, but he was pretty popular among the ladies in that movie.

  2. M M Bennetts says:

    It wasn’t very accurate as far as that goes. Hollywoodised things rarely are. Though there were some excellent aspects, certainly.

    Most scholars now think the Immortal Beloved was not his sister-in law, but was Antonie Brentano…she was in the right places at the right times for him to have been writing the letters–particularly she was in or near Prague when he was in the area in the summer and autumn of 1812..

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