Definition. Music. A romantic composition intended to embody sentiments appropriate to the evening or night; a pensive melody. A painting of a night scene. (from the French which meant nocturnal, from Latin nocturnus).
Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall is a collection of five short stories by Kazuo Ishiguro, and was conceived as a whole, almost as a piece of music in five movements, taking the format of a cycle, beginning and ending in Venice.
- Crooner. Is set in Venice and is told by a Polish guitarist playing with a cafe orchestra. One day whilst playing he sees this old time American singer, who was adored by his mother back in the eastern block. The singer co-opts him into accompanying him from a gondola, as he serenades his younger wife. This is a beautiful tale of commodity and relationship.
- Come Rain or Come Shine.This is a tale about an English foreign language teacher who is invited to the home of a couple he was friends with at university. However, there is an ulterior motive, as there are problems with the relationship, and his role is to attempt to patch up his friends marriage by being seen as inept in comparison to the high achieving superiority of the husband, his friend. This tale skirts the strange, sad and comic ending up on a lovely note.
- Malvern hills. In this story a young guitarist, after an abysmal lack of success in London, retreats back to his old stomping ground, and a spare bed at his sisters, working in her countryside cafe to pay for his keep. Whilst working in the cafe, he meets a Swiss couple, who are touring the hills after being inspired by the music of Elgar. The initial encounter doesn’t go to well, but he meets again them later, and is left reflecting on his own life.
- Nocturnes. A jazz saxophonist, whose career is floundering (possibly because of his looks), is convinced by his ex and his manager to undergo plastic surgery. Whilst in recovery at some private hotel, he meets what he describes as some vacuous female celebrity (the young wife from the first story). Both, with heads encased in bandages, stalk the corridors of the hotel after dark – this story manages to be both absurd and serious, and features a hilarious moment involving the saxophonist, a turkey and an award statuette.
- Cellists. A young Hungarian cellist is charmed, and I’m using the word in its old sense*, by a fellow cellist, who is apparently a virtuoso American cellist, she offers to tutor him, to bring out the qualities she has perceived in him. He later finds out she cannot play the cello, but is so convinced of her own genius that she has never found a teacher equal to it. So to make sure it’s not damaged she has chosen never to realise it, to keep it safe. For her music represents some ideal that she would rather keep wrapped, than risk tarnishing it. Ultimately neither end up fulfilled, caught up in their everyday world, and the life hinted at in the music.
This is a really beautiful collection of stories, that will haunt you, that will leave you in a mood of quite contemplation, there are funny moments, really funny moments, but the overall feel is of some nebulous ache. These are mood pieces, an instant caught in amber, romantic and full of melancholy, and really beautiful.
Relating it back to music they reminded me of;
Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
"Dance Me To The End Of Love"
*Affected or protected by, bewitched.