The Music of Erich Zann: The Complete Lovecraftian#26

Listen to them, the children of the night. What beautiful music they make: Bram Stoker…

Music and horror have always been linked. Watch any horror movie, with the music track off, and you will see what I mean. We are programmed somehow to feel a chill down our spine when discordant notes are played. The shower scene in psycho as the knife comes down. That strange theme that gets played whenever is about to die in a horrendous way in the Omen series. Listen to them without the pictures, and they will produce the same guttural reaction. The music from jaws, the music from the Exorcist, the music from Halloween, Friday 13th, take your pick. They all have discordance and visceral natures. So it’s unsurprising that a tale involving discordant music crops up in Lovecraft bibliology. ‘The Music of Erich Zann‘ is, however, a tale with so much more to it than just music. It is a tale discordant by its very nature.

There is something seductive about ‘The Music of Erich Zann‘, it draws you in, in much the same way the protagonist is attracted to the music of the viola being played on the floor above him in the boarding house on the Rue d Auseil. There is a clue in the name of the street. A couple of clues to be exact. First, there is the Rue part. Lovecraft was always drawn to Alexander Poe. He who wrote of murders in the Rue Morgue. Yes, it is true that Rue is merely the French word for street, but it is no coincidence I feel that Lovecraft chose to place this, his most Poe inspired work, in a French street. The second clue to the nature of the story is the second half of Rue Auseil.

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The second clue to the nature of the story is the second half of Rue d Auseil. While the name is fictional and not truly a French word, the closest you can come to it in French is Au Seuil, which is the French for portal… Which subtly hints about what is really going on in this tale… Not least because when we join the story we are told by the protagonist that he can not find the Rue d Auseil on any map of the city, or even the district in which it resides. He remembers staying there for a few months and the events that took place but not how he came to live there for a time in the first place. The description of the district and the Rue d Auseil itself is both hauntingly familiar, yet unerringly strange, there is a slightly off quality to it. A place that is a part of a city you know well, but is some how out of key, discordant, or just plain wrong. An older part of town, which feels like it has gone to seed. The kind of area you wander into late at night and feel as if you have stepped across a boundary into somewhere else. The inhabitants look strange, the street is not paved, the smell of the place is different, it seems indeed like the idea of purgatory, a place between our world and the next.

I have a fondness for this idea of purgatory, though not in the Christian sense of the word. The idea of places existing slight out of key with our reality, soft places that you can wander into if the conditions are right, and from them find your way somewhere else, literature is full of them, from Stephen Kings ‘thinys’, C.S.Lewis’s wardrobe, the mist marches in Morecock’s Von Bek and countless other examples including my own ‘Passing Place’. From the description given by Lovecraft, Rue d Auseil is almost certainly one of these soft places, between our here, and somewhere else…

In his boarding house at the top of the hill that forms the Rue d Auseil, the protagonist has a view of the great wall at the end of the street which blocks all view of what lays beyond. Indeed he is told the only place high enough to see beyond the wall is the highest garrot in the house, where resides the viola player Erich Zann. Our ‘hero’ has heard Zann playing his strange hauntingly discordant music in the early hours each night from his room below and is both repulsed and drawn to it in equal measure. In time he works up the courage to meet the man himself and ask him about it. Where upon he discovers the man is mute, and beyond his viola communicates only by carefully written notes. Zann also seems to be haunted himself, strangely draw and nervous, yet all the same, he agrees to play for our ‘hero’, and it is at this point that things get really odd…

What interest our protagonist most is not the strange music which seems to come from the viola but the strange counter point that comes from beyond the shuttered window. The only window on the Rue d Auseil that looks out above the great wall at its height… What lays beyond the wall. a vista of the city all lit up in the night?  Or something else, something strange and wrong? And as Zann plays his singular instrument, its notes crying out in the night, a wind gets up and events go downhill fast… Indeed, everything goes to hell, one way or another…

Perhaps it is the subject matter, but ‘The Music of Erich Zann‘ sings to me. For want of other words. It has strong elements of Poe at his best, certainly there is some imitation of Poe’s style involved, but Lovecraft make it his own. You can feel the darkness of the city at night, the strangeness of the street, the discordance of the music. The deep impending doom of the violist, this strange mute man so gripped with a terror unnamed. It is Lovecraft close to his best and makes me wonder how many tentacles you would need to play the violin. Five I suspect, well poissibly not, but the tale itself gets a 5, a disturbing eldrich 5 at that…

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As a side note… While I am not much of one for the classical genre, I like my music heavy on the electric guitars, bass and drums side. But I do have a soft spot for the occasional bit of classical, Holst planet suite is haunting at times. The tale of Erich Zann’s discordant music has inspired more than one musician, however, and while it doesn’t really fall within my normal tastes there is something seductive and beautiful about this particular peace by Alexey Voytenko. It is perhaps closer to Lovecraft’s own imagining of Erich Zanns playing than makes for entirely comfortable listening… Yet I like it all the same…

But then the doesn’t the devil always have all the best tunes…

 

Further Lovecraftian witterings 

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One Response to The Music of Erich Zann: The Complete Lovecraftian#26

  1. Pingback: The Outsider: The Complete Lovecraft#30 | The Passing Place

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