As the title suggests, 15 stories with musical themes. Finely wrought, and ranging from the profound to the whimsical, they're more pianissimo than con brio. British writer Hamilton-Paterson, whose Gerontius (1991), a novel about the composer Edward Elgar, won the 1989 Whitbread Prize, here lyrically evokes the quirky and sometimes darker aspects of the muse. In ""Farts and Longings,"" a writer keeps meeting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in various incarnations; in his most recent manifestation, Mozart is a conference-bound Nigerian doctor who discusses with the writer his use of the scatological language that shocked the music world when his letters were made public. It was, he asserts, intended as a reflection of the politics of the repressive times in which he was composing, rather than as a symptom of any personal pathology. In ""The Last Picnic,"" another celebration of the quirky, a madman believing himself to be Robert Schumann escapes from a nearby asylum and has a disquieting effect on a family gathered to mourn their mother as he gives a convincing interpretation of some Schumann pieces. In ""Records,"" the close friendship of two young men, a friendship ended by marriage, is represented by a shared collection of records; and in ""Frank's Fate,"" a man in Italy to clear up a minor writer's estate discovers an essay by his deceased friend on the fate of a now-forgotten 18th-century musician that is a surprisingly moving meditation on genius and fame. Two other notable stories add a political shading to the musical theme: In ""Jaro,"" a middle-aged Italian woman gives lodging to a young refugee from Yugoslavia, a talented guitarist in flight from the miseries of the Bosnian war; and in ""People's Disgrace,"" a composer in a totalitarian country who specializes in discovering the hidden messages in music unwittingly causes the death of his best friend. No wrong notes or hackneyed refrains, just intelligent stories deftly done but without much lingering resonance.