Today, I’d like to share with you my musical inspirations for Umberto’s character in Concerto. I listened to these classical pieces often while writing the novel; they set the perfect mood.
The first is Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata – one of my mother’s favourites, and so I grew up listening to this beautiful music.
The depth of emotion here is so cathartic (this is Beethoven, after all, who wrote to his Immortal Beloved, ‘forever thine, forever mine, forever us’). A student of Beethoven described the Moonlight Sonata as ‘a nocturnal scene, in which a mournful ghostly voice sounds from the distance’. Certainly, there is something very haunting about the melody, and that made it the perfect choice for my novel Concerto.
Usually in a novel, the love story begins with the hero and heroine’s first sight of each other. But in Concerto, Catriona’s first experience of Umberto is musical: she hears him playing late one evening. I write:
Someone was playing the piano: Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. It had once been likened by the German poet Ludwig Rellstab to the effect of moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne, and to Catriona tonight it was as if the silvery orb was shining on the far-off Mediterranean. Entranced, the eighteen-year-old musician listened with a beating heart to the liquid notes that floated to her through the night, a mesmerizing melody that held her in its charm long after it had ceased to play.
The other composer who stirred my muse is Debussy. While writing, I listened to Clair de Lune and Deux Arabesques, which to me conveyed the romance and poignancy of the story. The Deux Arabesques suite is one of Debussy’s earlier works, and it’s impressionistic, meaning the focus is on mood and atmosphere.
Debussy said, ‘Beauty must appeal to the sense, must provide us with immediate enjoyment, must impress or insinuate itself into us without any effort on our part.’ So it is with Deux Arabesques, effortlessly beautiful and moving.
Clair de Lune means moonlight in French. Debussy took inspiration from the poem of the same name written by Paul Verlaine in 1869:
Your soul is a delicate landscape
Where roam charming masks and bergamasques
Playing the lute and dancing and seeming almost
Sad under their whimsical disguises.
While singing in a minor key
Of victorious love and easy life
They don’t seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,
With the sad and beautiful moonlight,
Which makes the birds in the trees dream
And sob with ecstasy the water streams,
The great slim water streams among the marbles.
Debussy’s Clair de Lune so perfectly conjures up that ‘sad and beautiful moonlight’. There is a sense of despair in the melody that touches my heart deeply. It is, for me, Umberto’s song: he is a man who has lost everything – his sight, his music, his will to create and to live; he is a man whose soul is a ‘delicate landscape’, a man in such despair.
When Umberto listens to Clair de Lune in the novel, it is cathartic, enabling him to explore the emotions he strives to keep hidden behind a ‘charming mask’. The music brings calm. As Debussy said, ‘Music is the silence between the notes.’
But while Clair de Lune has a mournful undertone, I also hear within it such beauty, and that naturally creates wonder, and hope. Later in the book, Umberto hears the piece once more – but this time played on the piano by someone about whom he cares a great deal, someone who symbolises hope for him. Then, the sun replaces the sad moonlight. I write: ‘The room was bathed in sunshine, the smooth ebony surface of the baby grand gleaming in the light.’
So there is the ‘booktrack’ of Concerto. I hope you will take a few minutes to listen to these wonderful pieces, and be swept up in the beauty of the music and the mood of Concerto.