Friday, January 26, 2007

Warning: Explicit music

One of the most vivid and interesting novels I've read in the last couple of years is FROST THE FIDDLER by pianist Janice Weber. It's a good read if you like witty, well-written fiction about classical music.

The plot concerns a secret agent who is also an acclaimed violinist. There's quite a bit of fairly explicit eroticism in the book. Those passages are an example of Weber's artistry. If you think it's easy to write interesting passages about sex, you haven't read much modern fiction.

But my favorite passages are what might be called the "explicit music," the passages where Weber writes about classical music and what it's like to play it. There's a very funny scene (chapter 4) where a recording engineer tells the heroine, Leslie Frost, that he and the record producer he works with have recorded Beethoven's Fifth Symphony 30 times.

Asked why he records the same piece over and over, the engineer replies, "The beer. Harry and I will only record the piece in countries with great beer." The engineer drinks his beer and adds, "We hate Beethoven."

The irony is that while for classical music folks Beethoven's "Fifth" may be what "Stairway to Heaven" has been for rock listeners, the piece you can't get away from, the passage may not make much sense for younger readers. How many people under 30 in the U.S. have heard the Fifth all the way through, from beginning to end? It can't be many.

And here's a bit of black humor for you modern classical music fans: The gang Frost battles in Weber's novel secretly smuggle data by including hidden tracks on CDs of music by an obscure modern composer. The CDs offer perfect cover since nobody notices or listens to them.

I've spent a lot of time the last couple of months listening to two excellent Weber CDs, her recordings of Leo Ornstein's piano music and her performance of Ornstein's piano quintet, so I've been getting a pretty complete Weber experience.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing.
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