Reviewed Elsewhere: Theodore Ziolkowski, Music into Fiction: Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated.

Lars Fischer Discussion

Theodore ZiolkowskiMusic into Fiction: Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2017. xi + 248 pp. $34.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-571-13973-3.

Theodore Ziolkowski's Music into Fiction Composers Writing, Compositions Imitated brings together a collection of essays investigating how music and fiction have intersected in the creative output of individual composers or authors. Ziolkowski attempts to delimit this immense topic by bracketing off discussion of complex issues of poetry, text setting, and theoretical relationships between music and language. Still, the scope of the book spans two centuries and cuts through a broad swath of topics: the literary efforts of well-known composers, the compositional efforts of well-known authors, literary attempts at adapting musical genres as formal guides for fiction, the literary reference to famous compositions, and even the notable case of composers realizing the fictional musical works described in Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus. Much of the material has been published elsewhere in isolated essays, but is combined here along with new material with the aim of providing some broader comparisons among different authors and composers. ...

The second major part of the book covers efforts of authors who attempted to construct their fiction according to musical schemas ... Ziolkowski employs what he calls a "practical" criticism, which is driven throughout by thoroughly descriptive summaries of literary works that are juxtaposed insightfully, but with sparse critical commentary. In this mode, Music into Fiction is able to reintroduce literature and music whose historical significance and aesthetic quality Ziolkowski rightly views to be underrated. Readers invested in the subject of Ziolkowski's research, however, will be continuously disappointed in the perfunctory treatment of the most intriguingly problematic issues that lie at the foundation of his project. ... the book's style of thought relies on broaching topics that cannot be properly treated within its own mode of discourse. The issue of sonata form is illustrative. Ziolkowski reads Thomas Mann's novel Tonio Kröger as an example of a work in sonata form, moving through an "exposition," "development," and "recapitulation" but does not convincingly expand on the fine-grained details inherent to the musicality of the sonata. There is an intriguing but unaddressed question implicit here about how such a summary reading of sonata form as a tripartite progression is any different from, say, Joseph Campbell's reading of archetypal narrative of departure, initiation and return, or some formalist narrative structure. ... It is thus unclear to what extent any formal comparisons between music and literature can be made, outside a purely biographical or descriptive recognition of the specific effort of some author based on some loosely metaphorical application of musical terms.

Departing too soon from the intriguing line of thought regarding musical and literary form, the brief final portion of the book examines realizations of the musical works of the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn from Mann's Doktor Faustus. Ziolkowski's descriptive, historical method remains consistent: focusing on details like the well-known atonal inspirations of Theodor Adorno and Arnold Schoenberg and the specific genres and instrumentation of musical works that were described in the novel. Mann's evocative musical imagery has inspired a variety of musical works, but Ziolkowski identifies the efforts of British composer Humphrey Searle as the most faithful to the specific details from the novel. As with his other topics, Ziolkowski provides only a brief conclusion as to the broader significance of these musical efforts, but offers a readable historical narration and sheds light on some obscure music and literature of quality.

Despite remaining on the surface of its most intriguing lines of investigation, Music into Fiction can nevertheless be read as an initiation and rekindling of larger discourses about the intertwined temporal problematics of music and literature. Having deferred the foundations of his arguments to these other discourses, Ziolkowski nevertheless supplies a rich source of material for further study, and a thorough introduction to a host of novels and musical works that deserve more attention.

Aaron Allen Hayes. Comparative Literature Studies 55, 2 (2018), 421–423.