NABOKV-L post 0006908, Sun, 13 Oct 2002 09:56:28 -0700

Fw: Nabokov and Music
EDITOR's NOTE. This posting is of particular interest since Christopher Berg
is a well-known composer who has, inter alia, set several VN poems to music.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Christopher Berg" <>
To: "Vladimir Nabokov Forum" <NABOKV-L@LISTSERV.UCSB.EDU>
Sent: Sunday, October 13, 2002 3:44 AM
Subject: RE: Nabokov and Music

> ----------------- Message requiring your approval (45
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> Dear Listers,
> VN wrote:
> > I have no ear for music, a shortcoming I deplore bitterly.
> > When I attend a concert--which happens about once in five
> > years--I endeavor gamely to follow the sequence and
> > relationship of sounds but cannot keep it up for more than a
> > few minutes.
> This quotation reminds me that VN's "failing" is shared by one of the most
> gifted musicians of the 20th century, Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji
> (1892-1988). Sorabji was a pianist and composer of Parsi-Spanish-Sicilian
> heritage, born in Chingford (England). His music, from the first, was
> visionary, somewhat in the mold of Skryabyn, but quickly developed a
> complexity and scope unprecedented in music. Many of his later works for
> solo piano run to four hours and more. A man well-equipped, one would
> to perceive musical form "on the run" (i.e. during performance). He,
> however, maintained that such perception was "not possible" -- i.e. not
> of the repertoire of human perception, and held that those who claimed
> otherwise were bluffing. (I'm sorry I cannot provide at the moment the
> source for this -- Sorabji's writings are not well indexed, nor is my
> memory.)
> It's an interesting view -- especially coming from this source -- and
> at odds with the claims of many another musician. From my personal
> experience, I would tend to agree: musical form (like the forms of novels)
> tends to reveal itself to me (a highly experienced listener and composer)
> only on re-hearing. The thing is, of course, that one doesn't know what a
> given musical element (tune, chord, rhythm) "means" until the whole piece
> has been played.
> Should anyone be interested in exploring some ramifications of this, I
> highly recommend an article by Kenneth Derus, "To Remember Sorabji's
> a Short-Form Conclusion," included in Paul Rapoport, ed., "Sorabji: A
> Critical Celebration," London: Scolar [sic] Press, 1992, 1994. Derus has
> written many articles on this subject but this is possibly the most
> available.
> It seems possible that VN may have been under a common misapprehension
> musical perception, and that his ability to listen to music may well have
> been (at least) "normal."
> Christopher Berg