Wednesday, June 07, 2006

an imaginary violin's sexy life

The last novel I finished was John Hersey's Antonietta, the story of a fictional violin. This was Hersey's last novel, published in 1991; a similar idea was done several years later in the film The Red Violin, with enjoyable results. At the very least, that film gave a whole new meaning to foreplay.

Hersey's book also does its best to make the violin sexy - its premiere performance at Antonio Stradivari's wedding sends the guests running home "in haste, inflamed, the men tumescent, the women moist" (p. 53). The author is an amateur violinist, and his novel struck me as an act of love, for the instrument and the great music that breathes life into it. Each "act" is a sort of love affair between the violin and a character: first Stradivari, then Mozart, Berlioz, Stravinsky, and finally a corporate raider named Spenser Ham. And as in a love affair, the Hersey's fantasies can spin a bit out of control, but they still bring great pleasure and charm.

The last act, in the form of a television script, is perhaps the weakest - its main character is not a musician nor is he particularly likeable, and certainly not worthy of such a fabulous instrument. Still, through him Antonietta manages to find her way into the hands of a talented young violinist named June, who displays an almost maniacal devotion to the music of Hindemith, Schoenberg, Webern, and Bartok. Her repertoire choices seem destined to bring only tragedy, but in the end the Schoenberg Violin Concerto (Opus 36) saves the day.

It's a bit far-fetched, but still there are winning moments. One is when June first sees the violin, in this stage direction:
Her cheeks glow; her lips are parted; her eyes dart from detail to detail. Awe shimmers on her face.... The viewer sees in her responses hints of what it means to be a gifted young person totally dedicated to a craft - traces of years of hard work; self-discipline, patience, stamina, physical endurance; a yearning for unattainable perfection; a generous empathy for anyone who may listen to her playing, a consequent urge to use it to excite and delight; a willingness to subordinate her tastes, when she plays, to a composer's will - but also a stubborn wish to be loyal to her own secret truths. (p. 260)
This clearly was not intended to be filmed - it would take quite an actress to show all of that through facial expressions. Still, these are all qualities that I've recognized and admired in musicians I've known. And that I hope to reflect myself, even if you won't see them in my face. I'm not usually prone to shimmer. This book reminded me of a great deal that I love about music, and musical instruments - the violin was my first love as well. First loves often don't work out I guess, which is why I came to play the bass instead. Still the violin has a special hold on my imagination, as I would guess it does for many music lovers. So it was especially enjoyable to read these violinistic trysts, even if purely imaginary.


kamal sabran said...


urn said...

I don't think I could perform on stage thinking about the men in the audience becoming tumescent and the women moist. Too distracting...