THIS MAN AND MUSIC by Anthony Burgess


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Veteran novelist Burgess is also a composer--he includes a surprisingly long list of music-works here--and these are "highly personal meditations" on music and literature, their contrasts and intersections. First comes a brief musical autobiography: a music-hall-singer mother whom Burgess never knew (she died when he was less than two), Manchester childhood, with hapless violin lessons followed by the real discovery of music at age twelve (hearing L'Après-midi d'un Faune on the radio); Burgess' determination to be a composer, pop-music as an Army-bandleader, his first symphony ("My orchestration was Elgarian with Holstian condiments"). Then, after a brief, not-very-illuminating consideration of words vs. notes, their impact in time and space, Burgess half-wryly details the 1974 writing of his third symphony, movement by movement, almost bar by bar: "That descent in tritonal fourths is, I foresee, in danger of being employed as a mannerism." Next: some very conventional, if ultimately overstated, musings on "meaning" in music since Bach. ("Music might have pretended, with Berlioz and Strauss, to absorb literature, but in fact it had turned itself into an adjunct to literature--critical, illustrative. Mozart was the last of the great composers.") Equally unsurprising are Burgess' close-up analyses of the musicality in Gerard Manley Hopkins' sprung rhythm ("turning the poetic foot into a musical measure"), or in Joyce's prose. And finally, after an intriguing but undeveloped discussion of song lyrics, there are explications of the ostensibly music-like structures of two Burgess novels: the poorly-received MF (1971), whose "story discloses all the elements of a closed structure, like a piece of music"; and Napoleon Symphony, with its structure derived from Beethoven's "Eroica." ("Can music teach anything to the novelist? Yes: the importance of structure.") In sum, then: an uneven potpourri, from the broadly appealing opening memoir to chapters for musicological/literary specialists only--with Burgess alternately charming, blathery, shrewd, obscure. . . and self-indulgent.
Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1983
ISBN: 155783489X
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: McGraw-Hill
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1983


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