Blog | Music | Literature

The Impossible Dazzlingly Achieved

. 1 min read

At one point in Ian McEwan's novel Saturday Henry Perowne ponders that "So far, Daisy's reading lists have persuaded him that fiction is too humanly flawed, too sprawling and hit-and-miss to inspire uncomplicated wonder at the magnificence of human ingenuity, of the impossible dazzlingly achieved. Perhaps only music has such purity" (page 68 in my paperback edition).

Above all Henry Perowne admires Bach, especially the keyboard music. He has four recordings of the Goldberg variations and prefers Angela Hewitt's "wise and silky playing which includes all the repeats" to the "showy unorthodoxies of Glenn Gould" (page 250). It is only when he is in a really good mood that he plays Gould (page 22).

Viktoria Mullova's new recording of Bach's Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin just arrived in the mail and all I can say is that to me they sound superb. I'm not an expert, so don't take my word for it, and I have only heard a few other interpretations, but I find her delivery effortless, affectionate, radiant, nuanced and in one word breathtaking. At some moments tears sprung to my eyes.

I should add that I think Bach's Sonatas and partitas for solo violin are among the most beautiful music ever composed. It really does, in the words of Henry Perowne, "display a ruthless, nearly inhuman element of self-enclosed perfection".

Perowne's daughter Daisy tries to convince him of the merits of literature, telling him that people cannot live without stories. Although he dutifully works his way through some of the novels she recommends he remains unconvinced.

As far as I'm concerned music, dance and literature, in that order, are the most profoundly moving and emotionally and yes, intellectually, gratifying. It is in dance that I experience the greatest sense of freedom, it is music that I find most uplifting and it is literature that transports me to another world.