Posts Tagged Schubert

The Undercover Soundtrack – Jason Hewitt

for logo‘Everything about the characters was held within these notes’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s guest is playwright, actor and award-winning author Jason Hewitt @jasonhewitt123

Soundtrack by Fritz Kreisler, Manuel Ponce, Schubert, JS Bach, Gustav Mahler, Benny Goodman, Erskine Hawkins, Flanagan & Allen, Johann Johannsson,James Newton Howard, Philip Glass, Dvorak, Max Richter

Whenever I give a talk about writing I usually start by making a comparison between music and literature, saying that in my mind writing a novel is the literary equivalent to composing a symphony. It’s an analogy that was certainly apt when writing The Dynamite Room, a novel set in 1940, and in which music pervades the whole narrative, not least because two of the main characters are trained musicians.

I’d written fiction before but never a novel in which music flavoured the story so intensely, and as I started to fumble my way through a first draft I began looking for links between the processes of composing music and writing fiction. My protagonists, Heiden and eleven-year old Lydia, might be my lead instruments (first violin and piano perhaps) but they are nothing without the support of the other characters that swill in and out of the story like horns, clarinets and flutes. Like a symphony my novel is split into movements (or five days in this case); backstories, plotlines, and recurring motifs thread in and out like returning musical themes, ever word placed like a note. I even plotted out the crescendos on a piece of paper, marking them on my literary score along with where each character (my instruments) swept in and then left.

CAT_1394_R_smlHeiden is a Nazi soldier but music is so engrained within him that much of his pre-war memories revolve around it or his relationship with Eva, a gifted violinist. As the novel is partly told from Heiden’s viewpoint I felt that I needed to submerge myself into his world as much as I could, to familiarise myself with the classical pieces that were important to him so that those pieces that he and Eva loved lived within me as much as him.

For that reason Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid, Manuel Ponce’s Estrellita and Franz Schubert’s Ave Maria were played on constant rotation so that they soaked into every scene the characters featured in as I wrote. From the moment we first encounter Eva, through a memory, she is engulfed in sound – JS Bach’s Violin Concerto in E – while tracks like Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto from Symphony No. 5 not only would have been embedded within Heiden’s repertoire but also helped me to conjure the blistering hot July of 1940 – it’s a piece that smoulders like the heat.

If he shut his eyes he could hear it, the Concerto swelling to fill the template of the metronome’s beat, the auditorium reverberating to its ornate rafters in that glorious wash of sound.’

To immerse myself in the period I would start my writing days by listening to 1940s hits. Benny Goodman’s Let’s Dance and Erskine Hawkins’ Tuxedo Junction are almost synonymous with the times and helped me create the atmosphere of some of the lighter moments and the memories that Lydia has of the house where ghosts of music long silent still swill through the rooms. I like to think she would have danced around to Flanagan & Allen’s Run Rabbit Run but to Heiden the wartime radio hit holds a much darker significance.

To help me find the essence of my main characters I also chose an individual ‘theme track’ for them – a piece that epitomised them in my mind. For Lydia it was Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Theme from And in the Endless Pause There Came the Sound of Bees. It evokes Lydia’s wide-eyed innocence, particularly when we first meet her on a hot day, the piece very aptly ending in a storm.

For Heiden I needed something more robust, filled with the same vigour, resilience and desperation that he is. I chose Nothing is Impossible by James Newton Howard (from the film Defiance). There is a sense of endless endurance to it that reminded me of him battling through the blizzards of Norway, a lone violin struggling through the torrent of other strings.

Eva’s piece is the Violin Concerto, 2nd Movement by Philip Glass. There’s a simplicity to it that mirrors her moral position and yet becomes increasingly complex until it finally breaks free into its stomach-churning midsection then swills away again. Combined, these pieces hold the balance between my characters. If I ever lost sense of who one of them was I would play the track and they would come alive again, as if everything about them was held within these notes.

She always wrote on lined paper, each letter placed like a note, whole sentences plotted out like lines of music. He could sing the words if he wanted to, he could hear the song of them playing in his head.’

Devastation Road hardback jacketIn my new novel Devastation Road, music takes a back seat, but as the story is about the immediate aftermath of war it seemed right that the musical influences I’d established in The Dynamite Room still echo through.

The early chapters are set in Czechoslovakia and have a dreamlike atmosphere as Owen wanders through a landscape that he cannot remember. Dvořák was greatly influenced by Bohemian Forest Music and his Silent Woods became the soundtrack for my opening scenes. Flutes come in like trilling birds while the slow descent of notes sound like Owen’s trudge as he traverses the Bohemian forests himself, the surge and fall of the music mimicking the densely-wooded slopes.

As the story progressed, though, I found myself needing something more and discovered it in Max Richter’s After Gunther’s Death (from Lore). The two-note rhythm of the piano echo the stumble of Owen’s feet as he makes his journey across Europe, only then for the violin (like Janek) and then the cello (like Irena) to join him, the three of them sweeping along together, somehow pulling each other through. It’s a piece that – like my novel I hope – is tragic and yet filled with heart.

Jason Hewitt is an author, playwright and actor. His debut novel The Dynamite Room was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award. His second novel Devastation Road was published in July. After a successful run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe his play Claustrophobia makes its London debut at The Hope Theatre, London (Nov 17-Dec 5 2015). For the full Youtube playlist that accompanies The Dynamite Room please visit his website. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @jasonhewitt123

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Louisa Treger

for logoMusic and love transform your internal landscape

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by Louisa Treger @louisatreger

Soundtrack by Hozier, Amy Winehouse, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms

Before pursuing a career as a writer, I was a classical violinist, working as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. Music was fantastic training for being an author because it taught me the discipline to glue my butt to a chair and spend hours alone every day, honing my craft. Music was, and still is, a huge part of my life. It informs every word I write.
Many authors listen to music while they are working, but I can’t. For me, music is too powerful; it’s like a magnet, drawing all my attention to it. It shuts out the words. I listen to music in my car, while walking the dog, or doing chores at home.

Louisa TregerMusic lifts us into a different realm. It allows us to enter a place where our emotions can flow freely, in a way that transcends ordinary experience. Yet although music expresses things that go deeper than words, I find that it inspires words. Music expresses states of feeling that I want to capture verbally. At first, these are dim and half formed in my mind; I am fumbling my way towards them. Listening to music is a catalyst, helping me put emotions into words.

Music was fundamental to the writing of my debut novel, The Lodger.

It’s a biographical novel about the little-known author, Dorothy Richardson, who was a literary pioneer and something of a cult figure in her day. She wrote stream of consciousness before anyone else and was considered Virginia Woolf’s equal, but somehow, she got forgotten by history.

At the start of my novel, Dorothy is existing just above the poverty line, working as a dentist’s secretary and living in a shabby boarding house in Bloomsbury. She receives an invitation to spend the weekend with a childhood friend. Jane recently married a writer hovering on the brink of fame. Dorothy doesn’t recognise his name: HG Wells, or Bertie, as his friends call him.

Bertie Wells appears unexceptional at first. But then Dorothy notices his grey-blue eyes taking her in, openly signalling approval…

Tormented about betraying Jane, yet unable to draw back, Dorothy free-falls into an affair with him. Then a new boarder arrives at the house – striking Veronica Leslie-Jones – and Dorothy finds herself caught between Veronica and Bertie… Amidst the personal dramas and wreckage of a militant suffragette march, Dorothy finds her voice as a writer.

A song that helped me capture the mood and tone of both love affairs in my book is From Eden by Hozier. This is a very powerful song: tragedy and rapture rubbing shoulders. It reaches into your soul, pulls it out and throws it on the ground. It’s about people who are damaged by their pasts, who are flawed and cynical, yet have found something incredibly precious in each other.

Dorothy had fallen; she was living in sin; betraying Jane … The hunger she felt for Bertie was all-consuming; it obliterated everything else, even her guilt.

Loss and longing

There is a great deal of loss in The Lodger, and I looked to Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black for inspiration. I think it’s one of the best breakup albums of all time. Amy sings about the kind of love that goes so deep inside you, it transforms your internal landscape and marks you forever. And her voice: smoky and ancient, expressing more loss and longing, more pain and despair than one person can bear in a lifetime. It speaks to me.

Often, it seemed as though a part of her still existed continuously in the past. Lived with Veronica; the two of them lying eternally in each other’s arms, belonging together, as in the early days.

Music did more than help me identify states of feeling. There are many parallels between music and writing, including rhythm, colour, tone, and the ability to blend many voices, or to make a single voice stand out. Listening to classical chamber music – especially by Mozart, Schubert and Brahms – taught me about all of them. Chamber music is pure and precise, yet at the same time, it’s a real dialogue between characters. There are too many wonderful works to list individually, so here are three of my favourites: Mozart String Quintet in G minor KV 516; Schubert String Quintet in C major D 956; Brahms String Sextet G major opus 36.

the lodger - louisa tregerFinally, The Lodger is a novel about writers and writing. Great music is sublime in the way writers strive for sublime prose; it soars above the humdrum of everyday life, transforming it. It’s what Dorothy Richardson and H.G. Wells tried to do with words:

When you are in the right mood, words appear faster than speech or even thought; your pen follows them as quickly as your hand can move it across the page, and sometimes, the most exquisite phrases spill out. It’s hard to explain what a wonderful feeling it is; it smoothes out all the creases in your mind, and completely revives you. And you see life with such clarity…

This is what I am striving for too – and constantly feeling I am falling short of it. As Wells says in my novel: Will I ever get the things I want to say properly said?

Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher. She subsequently turned to literature, gaining a PhD in English at University College London. Married with three children and a dog, she lives in London. She spends as much time as she can in South Africa, where she supports a feeding scheme for underprivileged children living in shacks in the desolate Kurland Village in the Western Cape, where 70% of adults are unemployed. The Lodger is her first novel and is published by Thomas Dunne Books. Find her on Facebook, her website and on Twitter @louisatreger.

GIVEAWAY Louisa has offered to give away two print copies of The Lodger. To enter, comment here. Extra entries if you share the post on social media, but we might not know you have unless you let us know in a comment – so remember to come back and confess your good sharing deeds.

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Paul Adkin

for logo‘A disturbing symphony’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to tap into a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s post is by former actor and theatre director Paul Adkin @AdkinPaul

Soundtrack by Paco de Luia, Oasis, Mike Flowers Pops, Miles Davis, Schubert, JS Bach, Natalie Imbruglia, David Bowie, Stockhausen, Robert Schumann, Clara Wieck, Brahms, Leonard Cohen, Radiohead

When Sirens Call is replete with musical references, but the real musicality of the novel is in the writing itself. Through my work in theatre, as a writer and director, I very quickly saw the relationship between theatricality and music. In the composition of the novel When Sirens Call, I wanted to create a juxtaposition between its two protagonists and music helped me find it. In musical terms, the plot was a seductive struggle between the classical and the contemporary. Between the traditional and the actual.


Protagonist A is Belinda Babchek. A young Australian traveller, in Madrid, on her way to Greece. It’s summer. To locate the mood of the foreigner in Spain I listened to a lot of flamenco (Paco de Luia Entre Dos Aguas). I live in Madrid and frequent the flamenco bars, but I wasn’t listening to it to imbue Belinda with it. Quite the contrary. Flamenco is an alien concept to the young Australian. She is displaced and floundering before the backdrop of the Spanish guitar. Flamenco isn’t a music that one can lie back and relax with. It’s stirring and passionate, but also a disturbing symphony.

Me-in-NaxosAnd this is Belinda’s mood in Madrid. She is walking a knife-edge between her own pop-culture of the here-and-now and a yearning for something deeper. Even though she has no idea what that deeper thing could be.

In Madrid she befriends Charo, who is more sensual than Belinda and full of jazz as well as flamenco. Charo has an American boyfriend, Troy. He is completely superficial. When drawing him I thought of Oasis’s Wonderwall, but in the cheesier, Americanised Mike Flowers Pops version.

Through Charo and her American lover I wanted to create a crossing. A little bridge inspired by Miles Davis, bleating his deeply sad Solea . Even at the beginning, the final tragedy can be sensed. Belinda, like the Solea is intense and suffering.


Protagonist B is Robert Aimard. A middle-aged British writer and hotel owner on a small Greek Island. As an antithesis to Belinda he is a classical man. A lover of Schubert and Bach. He reads Schopenhauer and like Belinda he has his demons. He is separate from a wife and daughter he still loves. Nevertheless, he is comfortable in his island exile. At home in the timelessness of it. The Greek music that flows around him is traditional, a sad drinking song , the perfect theme for his own melancholy.

The melancholy

The melancholy is what will eventually unite Belinda and Robert, and to bring them together I had to build another bridge over that which naturally separates them. A music connection. Although at the first glimpse, their tastes are completely different. Belinda’s own pop is Australian and 90s. She is Torn by Natalie Imbruglia and disturbed by her Australian boy friend’s Bowie. Is she running into life on her world trip or away from it?

Between Madrid and Greece she goes to Cologne in Germany. Suddenly the double mask of contemporary Europe confronts her. A mask of pop and a mask of heritage manifesting itself in the monstrous music of Stockhausen. Is this heaven or hell? In Germany she is reminded of her own musical training. Her piano classes. This was the vital detail I needed to construct that musical bridge between her and Robert Aimard. So, I made a classical bridge via the Schumanns. They had their own bridges: Schubert inspires Schumann who inspires Clara Wieck who inspires Johann Brahms. Art rolls into and through itself and the music flows and gushes through the entire process. There are other connections as well: Schumann was a manic-depressive and Belinda is a manic-depressive. She fears death by water like Schumann, like Shelley. A strong romantic theme now grows in this undercover sound track. Meanwhile Robert Aimard’s bridge to the romantic and unto Belinda is in his passion for Leonard Cohen.

when_sirens_call_cover_isbn_1024x1024All of this sounds so sad and it is, but the landscape is the Aegean. It sparkles full of life and love, and a profound simplicity. The backdrop is the life of the Greek taverna and the spectacle of the traditional Greek wedding. For the most part When Sirens Call is set on this Greek Island and its spirit is the bouzouki , grilled octopus and a glass of ouzo with ice.

Music as sublime tragedy

It is essentially a Greek book and it does end in its own Greek tragedy. For the final scene I turned to Radiohead for inspiration and their Pyramid Song. The piece is bleak but also ethereal and sublimely poetic. Both lyrics and music were perfect to set the mood for my own finish. When Sirens Call is that song.

Paul David Adkin was born in England and grew up in Melbourne where he obtained a degree in literature and drama from Rusden. Since then he has worked in the theatre, directing and writing plays. Paul moved to Madrid where he has formed three theatre companies. He his wife holiday in the Greek Islands. His short story Kalimera won the Eyelands competition in 2012 and was translated into Greek. He has three novels published: Purgatory (2012), Art Wars (2014) and now When Sirens Call. His website is here. Find him on Facebook  and on Twitter as @SirensCallNovel @AdkinPaul

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The Undercover Soundtrack – JJ Marsh

for logo‘Broken atmospheres and clashes of sensation’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative environment – perhaps to connect with a character, populate a mysterious place, or hold  a moment still to explore its depths. This week’s post is by editor, journalist and crime novelist JJ Marsh @JJMarsh1

Soundtrack by Octave One, Schubert, InGrid, Taxi, Biosphere, Photek, Jan Garbarek, Pedro Abrunhosa, Aphex Twin, Vaya con Dios

Music, along with artworks, act as ambient markers when I’m writing. I need silence to write, but return continually to certain images and tracks to remind me of my original intention. When I start a book, I know what mood I’m setting out to express. But while concentrating on the myriad elements of construction, the mood can get lost or forgotten. I also use music and art references to convey my concepts to the cover designer/artist. So these notes on music provide me with a trail to follow if I get lost.

JJ Marsh picScreenplay to novel

Octave One’s Bout to Blow buzzed around my brain for a long time. I planned a screenplay – Cognoscenti – furious morality overlaid by cynical pragmatism. The Wire meets Wall Street. Turns out it wasn’t a screenplay at all. It was Behind Closed Doors, my first European crime novel about corporate greed and rough justice.

I spent hours listening to Schubert while researching, and shared this fact with my paperback cover artist, James Lane. He used the second movement of Death and the Maiden to underscore the video he made of creating the oil painting.

Several characters in the book owe much to InGrid’s Tu es foutu. But this track represents the voice of the character who doesn’t have one.

Departures always a carry an emotional charge for me, and Taxi’s Campari Soda, with all its sense of loss, longing, change and optimism is that missing chapter between 37 and 38.

Lost book

I can’t find the book, but when I was a teen, I read a story about a child in the Scilly Isles seeing something she shouldn’t. The first three minutes of Biosphere’s The Things I Tell You triggered that memory and provoked the opening chapters of Raw Material. (If anyone can tell me the title of that book, I will send you a box of Kirschstengeli).

Broken atmospheres and clashes of sensations create an awkward, yet appealing kind of tension. There are two key plotlines in this book, and when returning to the subways of Finsbury Park, I listened to Photek’s Hidden Camera to remind me of the tone of the predator: something unresolved, compulsive and endless.

In the final edits, I listened to the first three minutes of Jan Garberek’s Twelve Moons, to harmonise the overall feeling.  Garbarek can tell stories, and this one contains a certain damaged purity. It also led me to the final title.

Tread_Softly_Cover_MEDIUMPassion and tragedy

With Tread Softly I wanted to echo the atmosphere of Federico Garcia Lorca’s plays. That combination of passion and tragedy and pride. Pedro Abrunhosa’s Tudo o que eu te dou was my tonal base line. There’s a painful tension in his voice, a love song as lament.

I had real problems nailing my villain. He needed to be cultured and sophisticated but capable of the worst cruelty. Then I heard Tree, by Aphex Twin. The scariest kind of psychopathy. Insanity on a leash. Enter Arturo de Aguirre.

One of the subplots contains an inevitable emotional car crash. A half-remembered song expressed that sense of time running out, so I spent ages trying to find it. When I did, it was so perfect, it gave me the shivers. Vaya Con Dios – Heading for a Fall. And I fell in love with Dani Klein’s voice all over again

Jill grew up in Wales, Africa and the Middle East, where her curiosity for culture took root and triggered an urge to write. She has worked as an actor, teacher, director, editor, journalist and cultural trainer all over Europe. Now based in Switzerland, Jill is a founder member of author collective Triskele Books, part of the Nuance Words project and a regular columnist for Words with JAM magazine. She lives with her husband and three dogs, and in an attic overlooking a cemetery, she writes. Her novels are Behind Closed DoorsRaw Material and Tread Softly. Find Jill’s detective character Beatrice Stubbs on Facebook, or find Jill’s Amazon page, or connect with her on Twitter @JJmarsh1.

GIVEAWAY You could win a copy of one of Jill’s novels if you comment here – extra entries if you tweet or otherwise share the post. Don’t forget to let me know if you have shared on other networks and how many there are. AND don’t forget those Kirschstengeli. That book is in somebody’s reading backlist somewhere…

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The Undercover Soundtrack – Niki Valentine

‘The psychological disorder of the piece appealed to me’

Once a week I host a writer who uses music as part of their creative process – perhaps to open a secret channel to understand a character, populate a mysterious place, or explore the depths in a pivotal moment. This week’s guest is novelist and creative writing tutor Niki Valentine @nikimon

Soundtrack by Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Valentina Lisitsa

Music is incredibly important to me as a writer and has played a large part in my process, as well as populating my stories almost constantly. My latest novel, Possessed, is immersed in music in that it takes place in a conservatoire at an unnamed university. The students are obsessed and driven by music. This means that music comes out in the story itself. Both of the pieces I’m going to talk about appear in the narrative, in rather dramatic ways, but what’s more interesting, I think, is how these pieces fed into my writing process.

The vulnerability of a female soloist

The first piece is Schubert’s Ave Maria. This has a special place in my heart because it was performed at my wedding. For some reason this piece was running a constant background in my head as I sat down to write.  As the music played out in my head, I could see one of my main characters singing it, and it meant I could hear her voice, picture her vulnerability. This fed into her character in many ways. Firstly, she became a singer as well as a flautist, which I hadn’t originally planned, and it helped to distinguish her from her twin sister, both in my mind and in the narrative. There is something haunting about this piece of music and I think part of that comes from the vulnerability of a female soloist, hitting those high notes. And, of course, it’s often a funeral hymn, or sung in church.

The other piece came later in the process, meaning that I was brought to it by one of my characters rather than the other way around.  I realised that my protagonist, a young pianist called Emma, had never played a Rach and that she wanted to. This led me to listen to some Rachmaninoff concertos and sonatas, which became a constant background to my planning and writing. I wanted to bring in the intensity of certain pieces of piano music and how they could be consuming. In the end, I chose his Sonata number 1 and focused on the first movement. I was particularly struck by this recording by Valentina Lisitsa.

The characters in the music

There is something compelling about this sonata and, of course, it’s highly technical. I think it’s utterly lovely, and full of power, and the Lisitsa performance keys into that. Each time I listened, I found something different there. Since I’ve been writing I’ve had two absolute gifts that have presented themselves to me in the research stage. The title of my first novel was one and this piece of music, the other.  The more I listened, the more I felt that my characters were there in the music, trying to get through to me. It fed into my process in an ongoing way.

I then read about its genesis and Rachmaninoff’s composition process.  This was where something magical seemed to happen. I discovered that the composer had originally themed the Sonata on Goethe’s Faust.  The tragic play of lost innocence has so many resonances with my story. Like the play, Possessed has three main characters and, similarly, there’s the sense of naivety about one, malevolence in another and, perhaps, collusion and deception from the third. I love to play with grey areas in my fiction, so there is sense that these personality traits move between my characters but, essentially, the triangle is similar. Even more wonderfully, I’d focused on the first movement, said to represent the turmoil of Faust’s mind. In my stories, the psychological disorder of the characters is all important and perhaps this is why the particular piece appealed so much.

To begin with, my connection with this music thematically was entirely to do with what I heard and how it made me feel but, as I researched, the theories fed in to my process too. With a thriller, you don’t want themes or ideas playing on the surface, but they were certainly something I kept in mind as I continued to write and draft. I doubt there are many readers who would see this through my writing and understand it but, for me, the music added a depth to this book that made it far richer.

Niki Valentine is the award winning author of The Haunted, The Doll’s House, and Possessed, published by Sphere. She also writes gritty, realist fiction as Nicola Monaghan. When she isn’t working on her next psychological thriller, Niki teaches creative and professional writing at Nottingham university. Find her on Twitter @nikimon

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