• Art of Inspiration

    • The story ‘A Simple Melody’ by Virginia Woolf condenses the intimate relationship the writer had with music and, in general, that which literature sustains with this artistic expression.

    The stimulating relationship between music and literature in Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre / 

    Music and literature are two creative and artistic expressions that have been intertwined since their origin and which, also, have never lost said intimate proximity. Sometimes literature is described using musical qualities (its rhythm, cadence, the emphasis placed on certain paragraphs), while in turn, music can evoke literary situations (for example, the bucolic landscapes in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, known as ‘Pastoral’; they share sonatas, nocturnals and other creative forms). While there are moments when music seems to say something, despite its lack of words, it embodies the expressivity of language taken to an extreme; at others a writer can evoke what a composer would be unable to.

    At the end however, this link is less rivalry than it is complicity. How many literary works have inspired notable musicians and, in a parallel sense, how many literary fantasies have not begun with a musical piece? Debussy and Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune by Mallarme, music by Varese and the poems by Vicente Huidobro and José Juan Tablada, The Last Encounter by Sandor Marai and Chopin, the conversation from the Legend of Don Juan in one of the finest operas by the genius of Mozart and Da Ponte and, sometime later, the return of that compositions in the sphere of literature in Ulysses by James Joyce.

    Among these, and perhaps one of the lesser known examples of this genealogy, is ‘A Simple Melody’, by Virginia Woolf, the result of the pleasure the writer always found in music.

    According to Emma Sutto, a scholar whose work focuses on Virginia Woolf, the story can be read as a metaphor for communication and its difficulties, especially of ‘the importance of the unspoken’ and the paradox that this implies for people who are sharing a conversation: music as ‘a more direct or ideal form of communication than language’ —ideal because it is unreachable.

    This is but one example in the constant oeuvre of Woolf. Sutto quotes a letter from 1940 where the writer asserted: ‘I always think of my books as music before I write them’; and an earlier one, from 1899, where she accepts that music is ‘nearest to truth’, than literature.

    What was the truth that the author of Orlando and The Waves spoke of? The answer (if there is one) seems unclear. Perhaps it is a revelation where one can surrender oneself to the convergence of melodies and words. 

    Tagged: music, literature, Virginia Woolf