Listen to the Unpopular Music webcast on, Saturdays 12 noon -2pm
Listen to archived episodes at

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Number one for January 25, 2015



Carson McCullers describes the Eroica Symphony in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter


This is one of those famous books of which I'd picked up a cheap copy somewhere intending to read "someday," only to have it sit around for a while before that day eventually came. While it's probably too lazy to equate McCullers' writing to William Falukner's in their depictions of time, and place, and language, I will anyway. But while I often admire and appreciate Faulkner's writing, I'm often not all that interested in what he's writing about, especially when it involves the precariousness of southern gentility, as in Sartoris and its related stories. Only after poking around the Viking Portable Faulkner a while until I came upon As I Lay Dying was I sucked in by its utter unusualness of story, form, content, structure, point of view, etc.

Lonley Hunter, on the other hand, is immediately appealing, bringing you several compelling characters in a depression-era small southern city who seem to be on the brink of change, or at least a new understanding of life. Among these is thirteen year old Mick Kelly who finds herself more and more obsessed with music. Her family apparently unable to afford a radio, or unable to provide the proper atmosphere to appreciate the music in the chaotic rooming house they run, Mick spends her evenings roaming around the neighborhood, sitting on lawns outside open windows listening to music coming from the radios inside. On one such occasion (in the first chapter of Part 2), she hears Beethoven's Third Symphony for the first time. McCullers' description of Mick's reaction begins
... the music started. Mick raised her head and her fist went up to her throat.
How did it come? For a minute the opening balanced from one side to the other. Like a walk or march. Like God strutting in the night. The outside of her was suddenly froze and only the first part of the music was hot inside her heart. She could not even hear what sounded after, but she sat there waiting and froze with her fists tight. After a while the music came again, harder and loud. It didn't have anything to do with God. This was her, Mick Kelly, walking in the daytime and by herself at night. In the hot sun and in the dark with all the plans and feelings. This music was her --­­ the real plain her.
It goes on from there for another page or so. The funeral march of the second movement depicting a whole world "dead and black and there was no use thinking back how it was before." The finale is "like the greatest people in the world running and springing up in a hard, free way." Mick feels so overwhelmed by the music, at such a visceral level, she actually has to cause herself physical pain when the music's over as a release. "Wonderful music like this was the worst hurt there could be. The whole world was this symphony, and there was not enough of her to listen."

I really was not expecting the role music or rather the love of music would play in this novel, but it's been an enjoyable surprise. I'm still only about half way through, so I have no idea how this will play out, how this love will apply to Mick's future. She's been depicted up to this point as being a bit of a loner, knowing she doesn't fit in with the crowd but still wants to be part of a crowd. This scene immediately follows a scene where Mick has thrown a party, expecting to be all fancy like, but ends up descending into a "kids being kids" free-for-all. Mick has shed her khaki shorts tomboy uniform for a prom dress and make-up to where she doesn't feel like herself at all, but ultimately feels she can't put the shorts back on, it's now time to put away childish things.

That it is the Beethoven Third that she hears this night is appropriate, as it brought to music the sort of change that Mick and the other characters feel is about to come, in fact must come in their lives. Mick has earlier described a love for Mozart, describing him as a "special fellow" whose "music made her heart shrink up every time she heard it ... this fellow's music was like little colored pieces of crystal candy and other times it was the softest, saddest thing she had ever imagined about." She knows Beethoven is a "German fellow, like Mozart" but not much more. Up until the Third Symphony, Beethoven's music is much like Mozart's as well - I will often mistake an unfamiliar early Beethoven piece for late Mozart and visa versa. But the Beethoven Third is a demarcation point in music history. The Romantic Era in music begins with the C-sharp in the the measure seven.

The description of this boundary shifting music hitting this mind that knows there is another world just beyond its grasp possesses an understanding of music not often depicted in literature or elsewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment