Rachmaninov & Professor Whitney

Sometimes, I write in silence. It’s useful for me when I need to shut everything out and just figure out what’s going to happen next. Of course, sometimes what I really need is to get myself into an emotional space so that I can feel where the story is supposed to go. This is where I’ve found that listening to music I don’t know, on a repeating loop, is surprisingly helpful. Lime’s a big fan of Rachmaninov, or at least his piano music, but I’m not… not really.

However, she loaned me a double-CD compilation of different pianists performing various piano pieces by Rachmaninov, and one of them struck me as very interesting in terms of background music for this piece I’ve been writing. Often, for me, there is a piece of background music that runs through some writing of mine. For my rewrite of a story now (temporarily) called “Professor Whitney’s Last Letter” (it sucks but it’s a working title, and no better or worse, except for the lack of a pun, than the previous version’s title, which was, “Professor Whitney’s Resignation”). The story is about someone who experiences something very strange — he may be insane, or maybe something preternatural has happened, and it’s up to the reader to figure out or decide or whatever — but in any case, I’m finding Dmitri Alexeev’s recording of Rachmaninov’s Elégie in E flat minor (Op. 3, No. 1) quite perfect for summoning up the mood of a desperate man fighting to mean something in a world where meaning is slipping away — or from which he is slipping away. The piece brings to me (among other things) a very strong image of Frankenstein’s monster Adam on the ice floe, drifting away from the ship, looking back at the men he’s levaing behind, remembering his life (such as it was). In any case, there’s a very particular emotion in the piece, and it’s mostly just right for this story.

The other interesting thing is that this kind of musical watercolor-effect helps me when I am going through the piece and realigning the character’s diction, tone, and style of self-expression. It’s especially important in an epistolary form, where a character is playing a role, losing his or her grip on the role, but always performing a kind of self-presentation. There’s so much to do with it, not just in terms of whether the character is trustworthy, but in terms of the kinds of nuance you can convey, in how much of the person’s world (or corner of it) you can convey… there’s just so much in play, and in fact I’m surprised that I only now figured it out. (Especially since I’ve been blogging for so long as it is.) I think a lot of people miss this, and a lot of epistolary fiction comes off as drab or plain because of this. The character I’ve chosen will never be described as that. A little purple, maybe, or hoity-toity, but at least never drab.

Wow, again, that leads me back to Frankenstein. I should read it again, since it’s all epistolary, and I get the vague impression Wollstonecraft-Shelley got more effects out of that approach than I consciously remember.

In any case, I have a class soon, so I must take leave of of both the story (all 1500 words or repolished new draft I’ve managed today) and of this post.

PS: I think I broke a toe yesterday (hurrying past my desk, caught a toe, felt BAD pain for WAY too long). Not the smallest one, but a small one. It’s still swollen, but doesn’t hurt much now. Not much you can do for a broken toe, though, so I’m just toughing it out. That’s what football players do, right? But they don’t limp, do they? I’m limping again, like I was in Japan. Gah. Gonna have bigger muscles on one side than the other if this keeps up.

4 thoughts on “Rachmaninov & Professor Whitney

  1. I do the same (wrt music–not your toe–man that sucks hope it heals fast). I listen to music on repeat when I write particular scenes. Really helps in this oddly esoteric way.

  2. For a broken toe other than the big toe, they tend to tape it to the next toe. But if it’s not broken, then not a problem. (I know bone bruises can be painfully nasty.)

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