Not telling a story

29th July 2010 | Books, Daily Life, Musings | 2 comments

This morning I was coaching a very nice piano trio. We were talking about those ‘abstract’ works of Beethoven where the composer builds his material out of little musical ‘cells’ rather than obvious melodies and counter-melodies. Such works are sometimes more difficult for audiences to make sense of, yet often very satisfying for musicians to work on and immerse themselves in.

In the afternoon I felt suddenly very tired and lay down to listen to Radio 4’s Open Book programme. Tim Parks (author of ‘Teach Us to Sit Still’) was talking about his recovery from a strange illness a few years ago. He spoke about the healing role of meditation, and said that the experience of ‘letting go of words’ in meditation had profoundly changed his approach to writing. As he signed off, he quietly said something like, ‘It made me wonder whether narrative is actually a bit perverse, and somehow sick.’ This fascinating thought chimed mysteriously with what we were talking about in the morning.


  1. peter

    Yes, I’ve always thought it most impressive that Beethoven built such a successful career and reputation as a composer while having only a very modest ability at inventing melodies. For melodies, he was no patch on Mozart or Schubert, or even Mendelssohn. And what is perhaps Beethoven’s most widely-known “melody”, the opening theme of the Fifth Symphony, has just 4 notes, 3 of which are the same, with just 1 interval.

  2. Gretchen Saathoff

    Hi Susan,

    Tim Parks’ words are surprising at first, and interesting to contemplate.

    And your final sentence, especially, is fascinating!



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