‘The high arts of literature and music stand in a curious relationship to one another, at once securely comfortable and deeply uneasy – rather like a long-term marriage. At the securely comfortable end of the emotional spectrum we have those zeniths of song, the German lieder tradition, and high opera. In the best examples of both forms words and music appear utterly and indissolubly comingled. However, at the other end of this spectrum we have those kinds of music that attempt to be literary – so-called programme music – and those forms of literature that attempt, either through descriptive representation or emulation, to aspire to the condition of music. It is not my wish to denigrate works of these type, nevertheless there does seem to me to be an inevitable compromise – deterioration even – when an art form, rather than proceeding entirely sui generis, finds its ground in another form’s practice.
‘I myself am a latecomer to the serious appreciation of serious music – apart from jazz, which in the hands of practitioners such as John Coltrane or Thelonious Monk rises to the inventive musicianship and self-enclosed expressiveness of the greatest that small-ensemble classical music has to offer. Still, there comes a point in everyone’s life when it’s time to largely put away such childish things as electric guitars and harmonicas, and it may be precisely because I was in my 40s when I began to really hear symphonic music that I have approached the form altogether untrammelled by received ideas about it – a fancy way of admitting complete ignorance. There’s this, and there was also an intuition I had that my own practice as a novelist – when, that is, my mojo was properly working – had far more in common with how composers conceive of the symphonic, than it did with the lit-crit – let alone the “creative writing” – view of how it is writers actually write.’
Read the rest of Will Self’s piece for the Guardian on the symphony and the novel here, ahead of his talk at Kings Place in London this Saturday. Details here.