Sunday, April 7, 2013

Music to Write By, or, An Ode to Beethoven by John A Karr

Author John A Karr takes over my blog today, and he discusses two of my favourite topics: music and writing. Thanks for stopping by, John.

* * * *

Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have set them down in notes.
 — Ludwig van Beethoven

It’s impossible to sum up Beethoven in a single sentence, but the above quote from the man himself comes as close as any.

That character string (pardon the day job semantics) alone invokes inspiration, but it’s Beethoven’s music that facilitates entry into alternative worlds for this particular writer. More than merely beautiful or interesting, such “tones” rise and flow throughout the writing zone, summoning the muse along with them.

Particularly with the genius of Beethoven, each note has its own purpose. Each feels right.

At least that’s the impression of one writer after years of listening to classical music. Granted, one who does not read music, plays no instrument, and prefers rock and reggae when driving, exercising, doing the chores, etc. But he does know what music aids his own creativity and what does not. Songs, for instance, are a hindrance. Discernable lyrics disrupt the production of sentences from the imagination.

Beethoven.      Picture: Wiki Commons
That Beethoven often agonized over the order of his musical notes is not evident as we experience their seemingly predestined flow. They begin working their magic of loosening the grip of the often mundane world around us. They do not break the hold completely, for doing so could invite insanity, but our psyche is no longer restrained by reality. Passageways to creativity appear. Boundaries are relaxed or removed. The imagination expands beyond daily life.

Now it is free to roam or wreak havoc.

Yes, havoc.

Like conflict in a story, imaginative mayhem is required. But we’re not talking Metallica here ... just how does a genre often branded as ‘boring’ do this?

The casual listener might regard classical music as simply a collection of peaceful sounds meant for high-brow affairs or relaxation. They’d be wrong of course, and should avail themselves of Beethoven or several other powerful composers like Grieg, Dvorak, Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, Holst, and some Mozart.

“Some Mozart?” the incredulous cry. “Amadeus was also a genius, and on par with Beethoven!”

Mozart’s Requiem is among the darkest and most compelling music ever encountered, and his Symphonies 40 and 41 are also masterpieces, but much of his other work is too light-hearted.

Placid, tranquil sounds are not welcome during this writer’s sessions. There must be a certain moodiness and power to facilitate the writing effort. Perhaps there’s a market for beautifully crafted prose without some sort form of conflict, but this writer has no intent of engaging such a venue.

So why Beethoven? Why not Bach, Brahms, Chopin and a host of others?

Personal preference. The same reason Vincent van Gogh’s works are preferred above all others in the art world. His works click. So much so the writer created a novel featuring van Gogh in modern times.

Beethoven’s works almost always have depth, and they are voluminous. There is much more to experience than the famed nine symphonies. As a piano aficionado  the preference is for the sonatas and concertos. There is something about the versatility of sound created when small hammers strike tight metal strings that makes the piano the ultimate instrument to aid creativity.

For the past few writing sessions, Cello Sonatas & Variations has been this writer’s companion. The richness of the cello is punctuated, even driven, by the piano. Indeed, it seems more a piano piece than a string piece, but then, the bias for the ebony and ivory keyboard has just been admitted. Weariness beset the writer tonight, and the temptation to skip the evening writing session was a strong one ... until the wizardry of the cello and piano came through the modest speaker. The muse was summoned, pulled out a chair and sat at the table.

This particular disk features the über-talented musicianship of Jacqueline du Pré on cello and Daniel Barenboim on piano. Giants in the classical music genre, with a tragic back story. The  two were lovers, and du Pré ultimately fell ill and passed away. Perhaps one can hear more than musical notes in her playing, and in his piano interactions with her.

Like so many of LVB’s works, these variations are not placid and peaceful.  

Revealing of its creator, Beethoven’s music is often dark and brooding and prone to bursts of violence. All three are found in the famous “Moonlight” piano sonata.

Even his least complicated compositions engage the mind on a level that is immediate and flowing. Surely if hooked to electrodes in a lab and the impulses relayed to a monitor, the brain stimulation center for sound would flash in neon.      

One may not have read the books on Beethoven or his music, or seen the movies, and yet experiencing that quote at the opening this piece speaks to the motivation that drove the man’s spirit.

Tones sounded, roared and stormed for him. And for much of his life, Beethoven was deaf. Deaf! Curse and genius battle ...! His imagination and drive and love of music could not be stopped by an affliction that would have ended the careers of lesser individuals. Who would not be inspired by the music created by such a composer?

And yet, one doesn’t need to know any of that.

His works showcase his brilliance.

And the writing is unleashed as the music plays.

But though this writer returns so often to Beethoven, the world of music and sound is vast and should be explored. Ambient space music has fed the laptop’s CD player of late while working on a Mars / Earth tale. It is an instant mood provider. It takes one there, to outer space ... fantastic, mind-expanding, but eventually, a bit too subtle.

Holst’s Mars symphony, on the other hand, is powerful enough to raise the dead warriors whose bones have long since turned to dust on the red planet.

The writer’s wife and kids used to play piano on an old upright. A piano tuner once came to the house and said, after tightening or loosening a variety of hammer strings: “The thing about an instrument is that you can’t worry about the world out there while playing music.”

The same holds true of writing, and music is a trusted companion as we journey into the unknown.

# # #

Author's bio: 
John A Karr believes fiction writing each day helps keep the demons at bay. His latest novel is paranormal mystery Ghostly Summons, from Dark Continents Publishing. He is also the author of a handful of other novels: Death Clause, Hippocrates Shattered (soon to be re-released as Shattered by World Castle Publishing), Rhone, and Van Gogh, Encore. Dark Continents also recently published his Weird West novella, Ujahwek. His short stories have appeared on webzines Allegory, The Absent Willow Review, and Danse Macabre. More works are in progress and in the marketing queue.

Karr is an ardent believer in the quote by Carl Van Doren (1885-1950), U.S. man of letters:

Yes, it's hard to write, but it's harder not to.


1 comment: