Earl Grey Moments
- Grace Notes by Bernard Mac Laverty
Cape, 277 pp, £14.99, July 1997, ISBN 8 0 2240442 X
The speechless quality of music is much envied and imitated. Spoken language follows in music’s wake, verbalisation a poor second best. The musical metaphors of Romanticism are steeped in linguistic paralysis: as in Shelley, where music ‘vibrates in the memory’ only when ‘soft voices die’. Now, though, with sledgehammer subtlety and schmaltz, music, the piano in particular, tends to be invoked for all the synaesthetic reverberations it can offer. Clichéd images of the musician as mute genius or emotional pygmy crop up everywhere, and bad scripts are bailed out by sonorous soundtracks. Films – the Helfgott biopic or Jane Campion’s truly abysmal The Piano – acquire gravitas by replacing all shades of grey with the stern black and white of the keys. Normally it’s just a cop-out, borrowing the sonorous qualities of one art-form to make up for the artistic failings of another.