Songs in the Blood: The Discourse of Music in Three Canadian Novels

by Joyce Gutensohn, 2004

Joyce explains: I had originally planned to write my MA thesis at the University of Victoria on some aspect of the relationship between music and literature, and was leaning toward the traditional approach of examining a musical setting of a play or novel. The only problem was that I couldn’t come up with any original ideas – all the topics I found interesting had been done to death! However, when doing some research for a presentation on J.R.R. Tolkien and his editors for our obligatory Bibliography course, I discovered the “ubiquitous Tolkien-Kay connection” (thank you, Mr. Wark!). The Fionavar Tapestry had been recommended to me by a friend years ago, and I’ve bought, read and thoroughly enjoyed all of GGK’s books since then. I decided to re-read Tigana and was struck by the enormous amount of musical description in the narrative. “Eureka!” I thought, and began to consider whether I could look at how music was used as a structural component or a unifying element within a text. However, my supervisor advised me that I couldn’t focus on only one novel, so I added Robertson Davies’ A Mixture of Frailties and Timothy Findley’s The Piano Man’s Daughter. The three texts cover the genres of Fantasy, Kunstlerroman and Bildungsroman; the central argument of the thesis is that the discourse of music is inscribed differently within each novel, and that these differences are related to the generic particularities of the individual texts. The thesis is titled “Songs in the Blood: The Discourse of Music in Three Canadian Novels.” Only Chapter Two is included here (“Cradle Song: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana“), although the Introduction and Conclusion are included to help ground it within the over-all argument.


Much has been written about the relationship between literature and music, how musical works have been created from poetry, drama and fiction, and how works of literature can be inherently musical in nature. Within this lengthy history of comparing the two arts, critics have tended to be very general in their approach. In his article, “Literature and Music,” Steven Paul Scher creates a systematic typology indicating how the major areas of musico-literary relations are interconnected. He divides parallels between music and literature into three categories: music and literature, literature in music, and music in literature. Scher uses the term “verbal music” to describe a subset of the last category, defining it as “any literary presentation […] of existing or fictitious musical compositions” (234). Whereas Scher tends to focus on “plausible literary semblances” (235) of such music, he does not pay attention to what this thesis sets out to examine, namely, that the discourse of music within a text can also reveal contextual and structural levels of meaning crucial to critical interpretation.

In this project, musical discourse refers to the ways music is inscribed and operates in literature, such as a description of melodic line, vocal placement and inclusion of lyrics, or utilizes it in such tropes as simile and metaphor, in order to inscribe musical discourse as an integral element of a novel’s structure and narrative development. My goal is to explore the various ways in which musical discourse functions in three twentieth-century Canadian novels: A Mixture of Frailties, by Robertson Davies, Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, and The Piano Man’s Daughter, by Timothy Findley. I chose these works because each belongs to a different genre, and thus they provide an opportunity to discover whether musical references within a text differ according to literary class.

Robertson Davies’ A Mixture of Frailties and Timothy Findley’s The Piano Man’s Daughter are both realistic novels, defined as “the fictional attempt to give the effect of realism, by representing complex characters with mixed motives who are rooted in a social class, operate in a developed social structure, interact with many other characters, and undergo plausible, everyday modes of experience” (Abrams 192). Musical discourse in a realistic novel includes titles and excerpts from music familiar to its readers, while the texts operate within a developed and recognizable social structure in which musical success reflects position and status in the community. Although the two novels share these elements, Davies’ novel belongs to the traditional Künstlerroman, a narrative that is concerned with “the growth of a novelist or other artist from childhood into the stage of maturity that signalizes the recognition of the protagonist’s artistic destiny and mastery of an artistic craft” (Abrams 193). The author takes advantage of historical and cultural references embedded in the traditional training of a singer to define Monica Gall’s path to musical and personal maturity. He also draws attention to the connection between musical accomplishment and a woman’s marital eligibility, while focusing on the power and control over others that music can confer upon certain characters.

In contrast, The Piano Man’s Daughter is a Bildungsroman, the kind of realistic novel that represents “the development of the protagonist’s mind and character, in the passage from childhood through varied experiences […] into maturity, which usually involves recognition of one’s identity and role in the world” (Abrams 193). Unlike Davies, Findley is not interested in the conventional progression of the Bildungsroman. Rather, instead of following the typical movement of this generic type toward individuation, he explores Lily Kilworth’s identity in part by employing a complex chronological structure within the narrative as her son Charlie attempts to regain the intersubjective space they once shared. Musical discourse is a consistent element within these shared spaces and to a certain extent defines Lily and Charlie’s relationship. Findley complicates the generic structure of the text by incorporating Gothic elements to emphasize the tension between Lily’s “otherness” and societal conformity; music often plays an important structural role in Gothic texts, and Findley uses musical discourse in The Piano Man’s Daughter in a similar fashion. Most importantly, the word “song” encompasses not only the musical art form, but also a means of communication and a sense of individual identity within the greater span of generational continuity.

The third novel, Tigana, is a Fantasy. In the late twentieth-century, the term “fantasy” designated a particular narrative structure, although its “specific location in the spectrum of the fantastic [was] a matter of constant critical speculation” (Clute and Grant 337). A general interpretation of the fantasy text is “a self-coherent narrative. When set in […] an otherworld, that otherworld will be impossible, though stories set there may be possible in its terms” (Clute and Grant 338). Despite Tigana‘s otherworldly setting, in which the characters’ actions are limited only by the author’s imagination, references to music are based on recognizable musical conventions although several instruments and all the tunes are imaginary. Music, rather than magic, functions as the textual code which provides an index to this novel’s fantasy world. As well, the absence of music in one of the two narrative paths within the novel functions structurally in determining its outcome. Thus, the discourse of music is indeed inscribed differently within each of the works discussed, and these differences can be related specifically because such discourse is responsive to the generic particularities of the individual novel.

Cradle Song: Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana

In Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay uses musical discourse in a different fashion than Davies does in A Mixture of Frailties. Within this work of fantasy structural elements are governed by narrative conventions other than those represented in a Künstlerroman, and music, therefore plays a different role. Critics have noted that fantasy and mimesis are “fundamental operations of the narrative imagination” (Attebery, Strategies 3). Whereas the Künstlerroman genre is more dependent upon the kind of mimesis whereby the characters are limited to actions which “must conform to our sensory experience of the real world” (Attebery, Strategies 3), in fantasy, the characters’ actions are limited only by the author’s imagination. Works of fantasy, however, must contain some elements of mimesis to provide a point of reference without which they would not be understood; Attebery points out that the writer submits to this restriction because the freedom of unlimited imagination is offset by his or her desire to produce for the reader “a more or less orderly and comprehensive narrative” (Strategies 9).

The setting for Tigana is an alternate world in which the mimetic point of reference is “a highly developed pre-technological civilization” (Webb 17), while magic serves as the novel’s fantastic element. Attebury notes that “the impossibility in fantasy is generally codified” (Reconstruction 87), and that magic often serves as a textual code which “allows the author to send messages about narrative sequence, about character, and about the ontological status of narrative statements” (Reconstruction 88). Thus the magical elements in the narrative both identify Tigana as belonging to the sub-genre of “high fantasy” (Kondratiev 50) and serve to codify the impossibility in this type of work. Despite the strong magical elements in Tigana, however, I would like to argue that music rather than magic is the more prevalent textual code which provides an index to this novel’s fantasy world. The musical discourse in the novel brings together the mimetic and the fantastic elements necessary in a work of fantasy: for music in an alternate world to be comprehensible, it must be based on recognizable musical conventions; it is the instruments and tunes that are purely imaginary.

Musical discourse in Tigana is represented not only by song lyrics and the vocal lines of a funeral lament, but also by imagery infused with music. These prevalent narrative elements impose order upon the text. At the same time, because the development of personal and political identity is a central theme in Tigana, these elements serve both to transmit important cultural information and to trigger “event memory” essential to the concept of self. Although fantastic tales often lack depth of characterization (Attebery, Strategies 54), in this novel musical discourse functions as narrative rhetoric which provides insight to the characters. What I would like to discuss in this chapter is the manner in which the discourse of music enhances the fantasy narrative, while at the same time contributing to characterization and contextual interpretation as the protagonists plot the overthrow of two foreign tyrants in their quest to achieve political autonomy and reclaim their cultural heritage.

There are several striking similarities between Tigana and A Mixture of Frailties: both are framed by music in relation to death, and also feature music as an instrument that facilitates eventual rebirth and renewal. Davies and Kay construct their narratives in two parallel paths in which one set of main characters is involved with music while the other set is not. But whereas in A Mixture of Frailties the musical and non-musical worlds overlap, in Tigana, although each subplot has as its focus one character’s resolve to kill a foreign tyrant, the two narratives do not merge until the Tyrant’s death has been achieved at the end of the novel. Musical discourse, however, functions structurally in determining whether or not the narratives conclude in victory or defeat, harmony or disharmony.

A sign indicating that music will form an integral part of the novel is the way in which musical imagery is woven into the Prologue. In discussing the dominant features of modern fantasy, Attebery notes that one of the genre’s characteristic features is the comic structure of the narrative, which “begins with a problem and ends with a resolution” (Strategies 15). In this novel, both the problem, the initial conflict upon which the plot is based, and its resolution are dependent on musical discourse. In fact, the eventual resolution is clearly foreshadowed in the Prologue. The narrative begins on the night before a battle in which the Prince of Tigana, Valentin, is defeated by the Ygrathan sorcerer Brandin. The men in both armies are singing; even though they are separated by a river, the “harmonizing voices” of the opposing armies suggest that the two forces will somehow be united, thus pointing to the potential for political harmony. A night bird sings in the background as the sculptor Saevar discusses with Valentin how the arts of Tigana, books, music, and sculpture, will survive the certain defeat of the Tiganese army. The two men reassure each other that their province will be remembered; although Brandin may destroy them, the Prince avers that “he cannot take away our name, or the memory of what we have been” (5). Kay thus indicates that the issues addressed in the novel political autonomy, cultural identity and memory are all encompassed within the framework of musical discourse.

Music thus heralds the onset of war. This association between music and death is one of the most prominent ways in which musical discourse functions in Kay’s novel. The narrative begins with the announcement of Sandre d’Astibar’s death and, as with Monica Gall in A Mixture of Frailties, singing at a funeral has professional implications for one of the musicians; when the young tenor Devin discovers that Alessan, the newest member of his musical troupe, is the leader of a group of rebels who plan to restore Tigana, he leaves the troupe and joins their cause.

Battle in this alternate world is often glorified by songs of war and victory, another example of the fantastic containing mimetic elements from the “real” world. Such musical discourse in this instance enhances the narrative by underscoring the action and commenting upon the novel’s political situation. While approaching Castle Borso, Devin reflects that his only previous knowledge of the region has been gained through songs, many of which are “wild with battle and blood and villages set afire” (303). One of the oldest ballads is about Gan Burdash and his legendary band of outlaws, who are eventually defeated by the united forces of Certando and Quileia. The words to the song call attention to Devin’s actions as he later foils an assassination attempt upon Marius, the new king of Quileia. Devin asks Marius and his soldiers to sing loudly enough to mask his movements as the young man circles back to intercept the assassin. The young singer’s action mirrors the lyrics; by protecting Marius, he ensures that the mountain passes remain free so that Quileia can resume trade with the provinces in the Palm, an essential gambit for Alessan’s political stratagem. The lyrics also call attention to the Prince’s plans for political unity.

This unity is finally realized after the final battle between the troops of Brandin and Alberico, a second sorcerer Tyrant from Barbadior. The Barbadian troops are retreating before Brandin’s superior strength when Alberico’s sorcery is augmented by three wizards unknown to him. The soldiers feel this increase in power and they begin to sing “the old battle-song of the Empire’s legions, conquering in far lands centuries ago” (650). Alberico’s advantage is short-lived, however; the three wizards withdraw their power without warning and the Barbadian army is annihilated. Brandin, too, is slain, and the men from the Palm and Ygrath are left standing beside each other, an embodiment of the harmonizing voices Saevar heard many years earlier which provides the resolution necessary to the comic structure within this fantasy. Alessan, who is allied with the three wizards and who in part has orchestrated the battle between Brandin and Alberico, lifts his hand and “the notes of a horn ring out over the valley and the hills, clear and high and beautiful, sounding an end to battle” (664) and heralding the restoration of political harmony.

Music associated with death often focuses on spiritual renewal and resurrection. In this context, it is important that one of the strongest musical presences in Tigana is the “Lament for Adaon.” Comprising part of the formal funeral rites, it is sung on several occasions and marks significant events in the narrative, while it also indicates where humans stand in relation to the gods in this alternate world. The Lament relates the story of how each year the god Adaon is hunted by his priestesses and killed “to be put into his place which [is] the earth. To become the soil, which would be nurtured in turn by the rain […] to be reborn and so loved anew, more and more with each passing year” (39). This music also marks the passing of a phase in Devin’s life; as a member of Menico’s troupe he makes his last appearance as a professional musician in a performance of the Lament before he joins Alessan in his quest. Interestingly, neither of the two occasions in the text when the Lament is performed commemorates a death; the first is for Sandre d’Astibar, who has staged his own demise, and the second is for Catriana, who is saved from suicide. Because neither character dies, the Lament cannot represent resurrection of the spirit, but rather accomplishes another type of renewal and rebirth in these two cases. Sandre is able to join Alessan’s plan to liberate the entire country, while Catriana’s act of sacrifice enables her to vanquish her bitter feelings about her father and to open her heart to Alessan’s love.

Attebury notes that fantastic tales “generally emphasize story over verbal texture and depth of characterization” (Reconstruction 86). However, the association of musical discourse with the men and women in Kay’s novel allows readers to gain considerable insight into the characters. This musical rhetoric provides a way of interpreting the “textual fragments scattered through a narrative” (Attebery, Strategies 69) that comprise a fictional character. Along a similar line of reasoning, Harai Golomb has indicated that characters can choose a context from the “universal potentialities” which exist in music in order to signify something specific to themselves. Thus, the music acquires “new and unique content through its interaction with a person” (Golomb 179). Music is integral to Alessan, and functions both as “a means of nonverbal emotional communication” (Golomb 180), as well as a refuge. When the Prince is accused of taking the young tenor Devin into their group only because of his vocal ability, he responds with insight: “It isn’t just the music, whatever you may think of my own weaknesses” (93). One of these “weaknesses” is his desire to retreat into music and put aside the responsibility he has undertaken to free his homeland. Devin soon realizes that Alessan uses music as an escape:

Tenderly, with feeling, he finished the tune. Devin looked at him as he played and wondered if he was the only man here who understood what music meant to the Prince. He thought about what Alessan had been through in this past day alone, about what it was he was riding towards […]. He saw the Prince set his pipes aside with a motion of regret. Laying down his release, taking up the burdens again. All the burdens that seemed to be his legacy, the price of his blood. (444)

Once it has been established that music shapes character, seemingly innocuous statements become charged with meaning. When Marius asks the Prince what support he needs in his efforts to overthrow Brandin and Alberico, Alessan looks “for all the world as if he was discussing nothing of greater moment than, perhaps, the sequence of songs for an evening’s performance” (384). On the surface, this indicates that neither is important; however, given Alessan’s love and need for music revealed in the text, the seriousness with which he would choose such music implies that the topic under discussion is also important, tipping the balance of power in the Palm so that the two tyrants destroy one another.

The Prince’s dependence on music reveals a sensitivity of character which augments the link between emotion and music in the narrative. Cynthia Westerbeck notes that this association can represent “a dangerous balance between a character’s ability to remain capable of sympathetic feeling while not becoming vulnerable to feelings that the character cannot endure” (14). Although Alessan deeply regrets binding an unwilling wizard to his service, he manages to cope with the pain this causes him through music which recognizes Erlein’s suffering:

Alessan’s eyes were closed as he played […]. And into the sounds he made he seemed to pour as from a votive temple bowl, both the yearning that drove him, and the decency and care that Devin knew lay at the root of him […]. Every song that Alessan was playing, every single tune, achingly high and sweet, heartbreakingly clear, one after another, was a song from Senzio. A song for Erlein di Senzio, cloaked in bitterness and the shadows of night by the riverbank alone. (296)

Whereas Alessan plays his pipes both as a way of retreating from the world as well as a means of nonverbal communication, Catriana’s character is revealed through description of her vocal range rather than through the specific music she performs. Unlike Alessan, for whom music provides textual clues which make him a realistic character, Catriana is role-bound in that her primary significance is to advance the story. Her character is defined by “descriptions of [her] movement and transformation” (Attebery, Strategies 72), often through the use of musical discourse. Thus, as music is the prevalent semiotic code in this work of fantasy, its presence enables the reader to examine the relationship between the more complex characters and those who are merely elements in the construction of the story (Attebery, Strategies 73).

Catriana is introduced through her behaviour towards Devin at rehearsal; defensive about her musical ability, she overreacts to the young man’s subtle sexual overtones in a duet they are practicing: “do you think you can get your mind away from your groin for long enough to do a decent harmony? This is not a difficult song!” (21-22), she snaps. Catriana later explains to Devin that she has to concentrate when she sings. “This morning you were doing the ‘Song of Love’ without even thinking about it, amusing the others, trying to charm me […]. You were making me nervous and I snap at people when I’m nervous” (30). This is a difficult admission for Catriana, but her defensiveness about performing reflects the difficulty she has in forming relationships; they are all “difficult songs” for her. Only after the Prince reveals his love for her does her attitude change. This transformation, which marks Catriana’s last active participation in the plot, is accompanied by an internal form of music; she feels as if a new-born bird is singing in her heart (614). Musical discourse thus frames Catriana’s presence in the novel, from the troupe’s rehearsal to her awakening love for Alessan expressed by birdsong, after which she plays little part in the narrative.

Catriana is also linked with height in musical terms which, in turn, connects to other actions she undertakes; she is always willing to scale the heights both vocally and literally to achieve her goals. At the audition for Sandre d’Astibar’s funeral, Menico asks Catriana ab
out the pitch for the song, wondering if “she can go high enough” (35). Devin later remembers her voice “yearning upwards to where the pipes of Tregea called” (47), yearning for love, for acceptance and, perhaps unconsciously, for Alessan himself. Catriana’s two most dramatic actions in the narrative are both carried out high above the ground; she fakes suicide by jumping off a high bridge into the river below, and later leaps from a high palace window after killing a Barbadian emissary. Such association with one level of performance, both vocal and physical, necessarily limits Catriana’s character; somewhat one-dimensional, she changes little during the course of the narrative. In comparison, Monica Gall has the potential for substantial character development which is illustrated by her vocal flexibility: “the tessitura of the lyric passages was unusually high [while …] the recitatives lay in a lower register” (Mixture of Frailties 249).

For those characters who do not sing, choice of instrument often provides insight to their character or to their function within the narrative. The discourse of fantasy “encourages borrowings from folk literatures” (Attebery, Strategies 109) in which common elements such as harpists and harps reflect a rich history of metaphoric associations. Gwenth Evans notes that the figure of the bard in modern fantasy is often accompanied by a harp, which is “significant in the revelation or growth of character, and […] often embodies an idea of the power of music” (Evans 199-200). In Tigana, Kay reverses the traditional stereotype of the harper; rather than a portrayal of “honored poet, musician, and historian of his people” (Evans 199), Erlein di Senzio is sullen, politically short-sighted and selfish. He does not want to be involved in Alessan’s quest, and on several occasions nearly betrays the group. However, when Alessan releases him from the magical binding between them and restores his free will, he chooses to remain with the Prince and work toward freeing the Palm from the Tyrants’ rule. Such a choice reveals that his character has developed qualities of loyalty and selflessness which, as Evans suggests, can be attributed to association with a harp.

The harp may also appear as “the vehicle of redemptive sacrifice,” (Evans 200). Kay plays with the motif of a harp functioning as the source of the harpist’s power. When Isolla of Ygrath arrives to sing for Brandin, she is accompanied by a poet who is carrying what appears to be a harp case. The harp is silent in the hands of a poet who does not possess the vital element of music; whereas music represented by the harp should be the means through which life-giving power is channeled, it becomes, instead, an instrument of death. The harp case contains a camouflaged cross-bow with which they plan to assassinate Brandin. The poet and the singer pay the ultimate price for their treason, as they are killed by their intended victim.

The harp is also used in several instances, figuratively and literally, to illustrate positive and discordant emotions. As Devin and Alessan cross into the province that was once Tigana, the first time the young singer has returned to his birthplace since leaving as a child, he is filled with hope and anticipation, and feels something “pluck at the strings of his heart as if it were a harp. As if he were” (454). In contrast, discordant emotion is indicated by music which is out-of-tune. When Pasithea tells Alessan that she has summoned him to her deathbed only to receive a mother’s curse, Erlein calls her a “vain, foolish woman.” His outburst is accompanied by “a discordant jangling of harpstrings” (475). Later, as tensions grow before the final battle, Alberico’s feeling of unease is also described as jarring “within him like a jangling, dissonant chord” (584).

As an instrument can be used to establish undercurrents of harmony and disharmony in the novel, so too can the musical or non-musical attributes of a character. Miriam Hart has noted that characters who do not have any involvement with music are limited in other areas of their personalities (147). The reader can thus focus on the characters’ involvement with, or reaction to, music to determine whether or not they are sympathetic to Alessan’s cause. As noted earlier, Alienor of Castle Borso is associated with music in Devin’s mind before the young singer meets her. Alienor is confirmed as a sympathetic character when her history with Alessan is explained and her support for his campaign unfolds. The merchant Rovigo and his family are introduced as musically inclined or appreciative listeners, and it is later shown to what extent he and his daughter Alais actively aid Alessan’s campaign. Even Sandre d’Astibar, who joins Alessan after his plot to kill Alberico fails, has a “passable baritone voice” (280).

Unsympathetic characters in Tigana do not like music, or speak disparagingly of it. The tyrant Alberico has a “heavy, unchanging voice” (84), and speaks in a “flat tone” (84). Art and the makers of music are of no importance to him; the one driving focus of his life is to succeed as Emperor of Barbadior. As tensions grow before the final battle between him and Brandin, Alberico’s lack of control, like that of Giles Revelstoke, is expressed in terms of conducting an orchestra: “he was supposed to feel as if he were calling the measure of the dance. […] Refusing, as the days slipped past, to dance to what might be someone else’s tune, however seductively the hidden pipes might play” (584-85). Of course, the “hidden pipes” are those of Alessan, as he lays plans to undermine Alberico’s hold on power and bring the two Tyrants to a position where they will destroy each other. The family of Sandre d’Astibar is divided; although his second son Tomasso has “an ear for music and an eye for dance” (37), his eldest son Gianno has no appreciation for the musical art: “I need two glasses of wine very badly. Sitting still for that kind of music all morning is cursed thirsty work” (51), he grumbles during the funeral rites for his father. Even Alessan’s mother is portrayed as unsympathetic to her son’s cause. Although at one time the prospect of listening to music would have brought her pleasure, now she has nothing but contempt for her son’s actions:

‘Musicians […]. How splendid. Have you come to play a jingle for me now? To show me how skillful you are in such an important thing? To ease a mother’s soul before I die? […] I have no more time to linger while my craven child gambols about the Palm playing ditties at rustic weddings.’ (474-75)

These examples clearly indicate that absence of appreciation for music is an accurate indicator of character. It is also interesting to note that, by the end of the novel, all the characters who do not appreciate music have died or been killed.

There are two characters, however, who at first appear to be unsympathetic because of their appearance or actions, but who are revealed to be more complex because of how they relate to music. When Menico’s troupe auditions for the performance at Sandre’s funeral rites, the Duke’s son Tomasso is introduced as a

delicately scented, extravagantly dressed scion of the Sandreni, a man […] who made it manifest, in his limp posture and the artificially exaggerated shadows that ringed his eyes, why Alberico the Tyrant didn’t appear to be much worried about the descendants of Sandre d’Astibar. (36)

The reader’s first assessment of Tomasso is that he is ineffectual and powerless; yet, because of his self-proclaimed artistic attributes and because he is moved to tears by the performance, if appreciation of music is to be a consistent gauge of character, his emotional reaction must belie this initial impression. Indeed, Tomasso is eventually revealed as having been instrumental in helping Sandre stage his mock death and in planning to overthrow Alberico. The second character, Brandin, who is responsible for obliterating the province of Tigana and who therefore should be a totally unsympathetic character, actively supports the artistic community and shares with Alessan a love of music and a vision for a united country. When news of Sandre’s “death” is first known, Alessan bets that Brandin will send condolences in verse, “incapable of letting slip a chance like this to remind Alberico […] that though the two of them have divided our peninsula the share of art and learning is quite tilted west” (10). Brandin himself freely admits how highly he regards music; after Isolla’s failed assassination attempt, he tells her regretfully, “You can have no idea […] how happy I was that you had come to make music for me again” (223).

If, however, despite his vengeful actions against Tigana, Brandin can be construed as a “good” or sympathetic character based on his love of music, there must be another element which influences his fate: that element is the absence of music. Both Margaret Doody and Andrea Weatherhead note how music imposes order upon the text. Doody states that when music is a major image in the narrative, if emotional concord is expressed through the characters’ love of music, then a lack of musical references contribute to “inner disharmony” of other characters (361); Weatherhead argues that music contains “the elements of order necessary for society” (248). In Tigana, as noted above, one set of main characters is intrinsically involved with music while the other set is not. Alessan, Baerd, Devin and Catriana are all working towards a state of resolution, either political, by re-establishing Tigana and re-uniting the Palm, or personal, in that the main characters by and large work through relationship conflicts, pair off, and reach states of emotional harmony. However, Brandin’s relationship with Dianora, who has become an influential member of his harem, is not resolvable given her failure to carry out her original plan to kill the man responsible for destroying her province and her family. Although Dianora has grown to love him, despite Brandin’s plans to abdicate the Ygrathan throne, marry her and integrate himself and his soldiers into the Palm, such a dissonant situation cannot be harmonized: Brandin is killed and Dianora commits suicide. The only references to music in the Brandin and Dianora chapters of Tigana have destructive effects. Isolla’s violent end triggers an association between music and death in the fragile mind of Brandin’s fool Rhun. “‘Music! Stevan! Music! Stevan! […] Music,’ Rhun said one last time […] weeping as though his heart was broken” (223-224). In pairing the two words repeatedly, Rhun clearly identifies the tension between the two facets of Brandin’s personality, the sensitive patron of the arts and the tyrant avenging the defeat and death of his beloved son. The two words also represent the losses which drive the narrative: “Music” represents the cultural, political, and personal loss of the Tiganese, while “Stevan” represents the personal loss suffered by Brandin.

In her discussion on “escape” literature, Kathryn Hume notes that a story’s effectiveness often “lies in its refusal to resolve the ambiguities,” (77) and at first it appears that there is no reason for the richness of musical discourse in only one of the narratives. Although the presence of music in Alessan’s narrative strongly supports the resolution of the problem posed at the beginning of the story, the absence of musical discourse in the Brandin chapters serves also to highlight similarities between the two men. There is an intriguing moral dimension in Alessan’s quest; as a hero figure, what does he accomplish that Brandin would not? Both have an affinity for art and music, both want to right a political wrong and unite the country under one ruler, and both have access to magical power. The main difference between the two men, however, lies in their application of that power, a difference that directly associates the presence of music with responsible use of power. Alessan voluntarily releases Erlein from the magical binding which links them; Rhun is only freed from the crushing weight of Brandin’s presence in his mind when the sorcerer draws on his last reserves of power on the battlefield and unwittingly restores the fool’s free will. Clearly, the horror of Brandin’s retribution against Tigana is too great to be balanced by a love of music and art. As Baerd tells Devin:

He gathered his magic, the sorcerous power that he had, and he laid down a spell upon the land such as had never even been conceived before. And with that spell he … tore its name away. He stripped that name utterly from the minds of every man and woman who had not been born in that province. […] He made it as if we had never been. Our deeds, our history, our very name. […] Brandin made it come to pass that no one living could hear and then remember the name of that land […] or even of that high, golden place of towers […]. He killed a generation, and then he stripped away our name. (97)

Rhun represents the province of Tigana; as he regains his identity as Prince Valentin, the curse lifts from the land, and the province’s name once again enters the consciousness of the Palm.

As Alessan’s love for music is a greater force within him than his misuse of power, his choice of disguise at the beginning of the novel, as a traveling musician, seems inevitable. Such a disguise gives the prince a legitimate means of travelling extensively and enables him to contact sympathetic supporters to gain information. Music is also an ideal vehicle for planting the seeds of rebellion, for “once music ends, no trace of it is left” (Westerbeck 3). The Prince of Tigana is an exile, and his struggle to reconcile a love for music with his desire to reinstate his province reveals the tension between artist and society. Much can be learned about the position of musicians in the “pre-technological civilization” of the Palm through the use of musical discourse in the narrative. As musicians are able to transcend social barriers, and perform for both ordinary citizens such as peasants, farmers, and merchants and for the nobility, success allows a relaxing of those same barriers. Thus Catriana is permitted to pay her respects to Sandre’s body during the funeral rites and to eavesdrop on the Duke’s sons: “No lord or newly wealthy merchant was about to deny her right to do so. Not after her singing [that] morning” (45). Devin utilizes his fame for similar ends; able to find out all he wants to know about Sandre d’Astibar at a local inn, Devin’s questions “seemed entirely natural, coming from the tenor who had just sung the Duke’s funeral lament” (72).

As well as these obvious advantages of belonging to a travelling group, such as access to information, there is a social component related to the disguise chosen by Alessan which sheds light on the status of musicians in the society of the Palm. A professional hierarchy exists that determines which troupes perform in less hospitable areas, the rules of conduct on the road, as well as the benefits attached to shared fellowship. Musicians, particularly travelling musicians, are low on the social scale, partly because they must travel continually. Devin tells Rovigo that his wife would not be pleased “if you press your daughters upon a traveling musician” (23); and Eghano the drummer comments on the transitory nature of their livelihood when he reassures Devin before they perform the funeral rites: “It’s just a performance […] we do what we always do. We make music. We move on” (42). Alessan’s mother is too proud to condone the methods her son uses to reinstate the province their family once ruled; Pasithea’s revulsion at his disguise is an indication of her rigid adherence to the established social order, and plainly expresses her feelings about the place of musicians within that order.

Alessan’s familiarity with the business of travelling musical groups allows him to protect himself, Devin and Erlein from
suspicion when they visit his mother. One reason that Devin has never visited his birthplace is that Menico’s success has meant that he has not had to perform in Lower Corte, the new identity given by Brandin to Tigana. His company is not “desperate for engagements […] itinerant performers of the Palm knew that Lower Corte meant bad luck and worse wages” (451). As they reach the Sanctuary, Alessan reminds Devin and Erlein that they are a newly-formed company travelling early in the year because “everyone knows new-formed companies have to get moving sooner than the established ones or they are likely to starve” (463). Masquerading as a traveling musician has other benefits as well; music is always welcome as payment for shelter and food on the road, and can be used as a bargaining tool if the musicians happen to fall into hostile hands. Devin stalls for time when they are trapped by Ducas’s band of renegades: “he had heard stories – wishful thinking perhaps – of outlaw bands sparing musicians in exchange for a night of song” (425).

The Prince has no qualms about disguising his true identity as he works toward his goal to oust the tyrants; in posing as a musician he links himself to the traditional role of transmitter of memories. The loss of memory is a major theme in Tigana, and musical discourse is used effectively within the narrative to foreground the importance of personal, cultural and political identity. Musicians are the keepers of history in cultures with an oral tradition, defined by Ross as “reported statements from the past that derive from previous generations” (171), but they will not be able to pass on their stories and songs to the next generation if those children do not realize that their homeland no longer exists. Brandin ensures that an awareness of Tigana’s history, culture, and heritage will vanish by first using his sorcery to strip Tigana’s name from the collective memory of the Palm, and then vowing to outlive the current generation of people born in the province. It is ironic that Brandin is destroyed, in the end, by a lapse of memory; forgetting that by calling up all his power to overcome Alberico, he releases his fool from his binding.

Evans notes that within works of fantasy music and poetry are often “the means by which the society preserves and interprets its history and institutions” (201). Pasithea, Alessan’s mother, calls attention to this role when she stresses the importance of retaining such history; she bitterly resents the erasure of Tigana’s name and its creation legends from the collective memory of the Palm. When Erlein comments that other provinces still have stories about their connection with the gods, she argues that that is exactly her point:

Can you not see it? I do remember those stories. Anyone with an education or a library, any fool who has ever heard a troubadour’s sentimental wailing can remember them. […] Not us, though. Don’t you see? Not Tigana anymore. Who will sing of Micaela under the stars by the sea when we are gone? Who will be here to sing, when one more generation has lived and died away in the world? (478)

As Pasithea articulates the concern she feels about the loss of the cultural history preserved by musicians, musicians themselves face a crisis of personal identity when they lose access to the very history they are charged with preserving. Freeman argues that it is the function of the human condition to try to make sense of one’s life and create a rationale for existence in order to “live on” (10). Once this “rationale” of life is no more, there seems to be little point in continuing to exist. After Isolla’s failed assassination attempt, Brandin asks the singer why she wants to kill him; her response is that she has nothing to lose: “I am dying … the physicians have given me less than a season before the growth inside reaches my brain. Already there are songs I can no longer remember. Songs that have been mine for forty years” (220). Her memory is her livelihood, and so important to her that she courts certain death rather than experience the gradual loss of such a vital part of her being.

Devin, too, feels very strongly about the importance of memory, revealing a fundamental aspect of his own human condition. It is “the touchstone of his soul […] for if something could be remembered it was not wholly lost. Not dead and gone forever” (98). But what has not been experienced cannot be remembered; Pasithea, who has memories of Tigana, is bitter and angry over her province’s annihilation, but Devin is unaware of his heritage and thus denied access to memories of his past. When he learns what happened to his birthplace, he experiences for the first time the emotions Brandin intended as a continuing vengeance against the people of that province. Tigana’s fate smashes into “the vulnerable centre of how Devin saw and dealt with the world, and it cut him like a fresh and killing wound” (98).

It is because of Brandin’s spell that people born in Tigana must find an alternate means of identifying each another; musical discourse, in the form of a wordless tune, serves such a purpose. At the same time, this tune links the issues of cultural identity and memory, one of the most important ways in which musical discourse is used to enhance the structural cohesiveness of the narrative. Schulkind, in his article on music, emotion and autobiographical memory, indicates that music is often used to “transmit important cultural information” (948), and Ross notes further that lyrics of songs are usually remembered “because the melody serves as a mnemonic device” (173). In Devin’s case, the melody alone triggers memories of childhood and, when he eventually learns the lyrics, they prove to be a link to his parents and heritage. As well, the cradle song, taught to Devin by his father, is the vehicle by which the boy’s musical ability is first revealed and the instigating factor for renouncing his professional career.

One of Devin’s first memories is of his father, Garin, humming the tune to help the boy fall asleep one night. When he awakes the next morning Devin is able to sing the tune with perfect pitch, the first indication of his musical inclination. This melody forms the base for an emotional bond with his father, and indirectly links him to his dead mother: Garin kisses the boy, and his face takes on “the complex expression that Devin would later learn to associate with his father’s memories of his wife” (32). When Devin idly picks out the tune as the musical troupe is awaiting their turn to audition for Sandre’s funeral, Alessan picks up the melody on his Tregean pipes. Devin notices a slight discord and unseemliness which he cannot explain; the tension that occurs when a tune from one province is played on an instrument from another gives a clue that Alessan may not be all he seems. The two men finish the piece together, “pipes and syrenya, and humming tenor voice” (34), an early indication that their paths lie together in the events that follow.

Although the Prince offers to help Devin find the words to the tune, the young man tells him that it is “just an old song, a memento of my father” (34). Alessan remarks that such things are important, thus alerting the reader that music will play a role in transmitting information significant to the narrative. The true significance of the Prince’s words, however, is lost on Devin. This tune, which has deliberately been passed to him without words is, in fact, the key to his heritage. Although Devin is unaware of his real birthplace, the melody identifies him as one who has been born in Tigana, thus functioning as an identification element to others born in that province. The rhetoric of fantasy emphasizes “intangible connections [which] reflect emotional or metaphoric associations, rather than demonstrable causative ties” (Attebery, Strategies 109). The tune, like the ring Catriana wears, is an “intangible connection,” allowing people born in Tigana to recognize one another. As the cradle song identifies Devin to Alessan, it later also identifies Alessan to Rinaldo of Senzio: “The only sound for the last few moments after they tethered the horses and began to walk had been Alessan’s pipes softly playing. Playing […] a certain nursery melody from Avalle” (443).

As “Good-Bye!” has relevance for the wanderer and exile in A Mixture of Frailties, so too does the cradle song in Tigana. It describes the longing for a child to travel into the world, while never being able to forget his home. It is a song to which all exiles can relate, but the last words, “A dream of my home in Avalle” (101), bring to Devin a deep sense of loss as he mourns his home and his mother:

those two griefs fused to each other in Devin and became welded in the forge of his heart with what memory meant to him and the loss of memory: and out of that blazing something took shape in Devin that was to change the running of his life line from that night. (101-02)

Critics have discussed the important relationship between memory and identity. For Mary Warnock, “event memory,” or conscious memory, is essential to the concept of personal identity; in fact, the two are inextricably linked (54). She argues that a person’s future is a matter of choice, “but a choice that cannot be made except in the light of the past […]. One’s present cannot be severed from one’s past, neither can one’s ‘concept of self’ be separated from the awareness of what a person was in the past: the person and ‘his’ past are one and the same” (63). Robinson and Taylor note that “self identity is a narrative construction based on life events” (126). When Devin is suddenly presented with a previously unremembered life event, he must change his definition of self in light of that new information, and it becomes imperative for him to help to re-establish the knowledge of his past.

The cradle song is thus responsible for ending Devin’s professional career and changing the direction of his life’s path, for, once Devin joins Alessan, he is swept up in events which prevent him from continuing to sing with Menico’s troupe. The cradle tune eventually becomes emblematic not only of Devin’s identity, but of Alessan’s cause itself, and is associated with sacrifice and renewal. When Devin dreams of the god Adaon dying at the hands of his priestesses, he hears no sound, but for the “Tregean shepherd pipes playing the tune of his own childhood fever, high and far away” (40), an association foreshadowing Brandin’s death which is necessary for the eventual regeneration of Tigana. When the armies of Ygrath and Barbadior face each other in Senzio, Devin realizes that they may die trying to free Tigana, but the reason Alessan and his supporters have come to the battlefield is because of “a dream, a prayer, a tune his father had taught him as a child” (639).

As one final indication of how musical discourse is an important structural element in the novel, music is woven into the conclusion as a symbol of renewed hope for the future. In the Epilogue, Devin makes plans to put together the touring company again with Menico, and start “chasing down the words and music of all the songs” (670) which have been lost, recreating the musical culture of Tigana. Tunes from the approaching Quileian caravan drift up “bright and gay,” mirroring this mood of optimism. The description of the music playing “beside” and “ahead” of the caravan symbolizes the role music has played thus far in the process of re-claiming the lost province, and indicates that it will also be an important part of the future.

Thus, it can be seen that it is possible for musical discourse to play as valid a role within a work of fantasy as within a Künstlerroman, despite the otherworldly setting and magical presence which are common elements in fantastic literature. In Tigana, musical discourse spans both the fantastic and the mimetic, and is crucial to our understanding of the text; its mimetic structure establishes the familiarity and recognition necessary for the fantastical settings of the imaginary music, while it also functions as an archive of cultural memory. Although magic often provides the means by which the reader can interpret a fantasy narrative, in Kay’s novel music serves as an alternate textual code to magic, which not only enhances the interpretation of character, but also contributes to contextual interpretation by serving as a structural element within the narrative. As in A Mixture of Frailties, song lyrics and vocal lines are the prevalent musical elements which serve to transmit information pertaining to personal and political identity. It is not surprising, then, that a wordless cradle song enhances the structural cohesiveness of the narrative by linking the issues of cultural identity and memory. There is a strong association between music and death in this work of fantasy; songs about war and battle occur within the text, while Devin’s performance at a funeral has professional and personal implications for the young man which tie in to Alessan’s quest to reclaim his homeland. One of the strongest musical presences is a funeral lament which marks turning points in the narrative and represents a spiritual renewal for two of the characters. Although works of fantasy are not generally remarkable for their depth of characterization, Kay utilizes musical discourse to provide a means of gaining insight into the characters and separating the complex characters from those who merely advance the plot; Alessan’s sensitivity is revealed through his approach to music, while Catriana’s limited vocal range illustrates a similar lack of depth in her characterization. In a narrative in which music plays such a prominent role, the absence of music references is similarly important. Both Davies and Kay divide their narratives into two paths in which one set of main characters is involved with music while the other set is not; in Tigana, however, the presence or absence of musical discourse determines whether or not each path concludes in victory or defeat and is thus associated, in the quest to achieve political autonomy, with the responsible use of magical power. Far from being yet another aesthetic element in these novels, music is integral to their construction and meaning.


It is evident that authors can use the discourse of music, as it appears in a narrative text, not only in ways which span genres, but also in applications that work within the restrictions of a particular literary type. In the three texts studied, A Mixture of Frailties, Tigana and The Piano Man’s Daughter, musical discourse appears in a number of similar forms: song titles and lyrics appear in the text, there are references to vocal line and placement, and several of the characters in each novel are professional musicians. The authors address the place of music and musicians within society, and explore the effect of music on an audience. As well, musical references give structure to the novels by framing the narratives.

Within each specific genre, however, musical discourse adapts to its appropriate parameters. In the Künstlerroman, the protagonist’s level of musical accomplishment defines her journey towards artistic and emotional maturity. As Monica Gall’s voice begins to declare itself, so too does her character, an indication of the extent to which musical discourse provides a key to plot and narrative development. The discipline she must acquire in order to reach her musical goal applies to other areas of her life, and indicates a parallel move towards marital eligibility, while the merits of her suitors are based upon their musical proficiency. The discourse of music links the two narrative paths in this novel; one song reflects Monica’s musical development, through interpretation and performance, while at the same time its lyrics mirror a devastating period in Solly’s and Veronica’s lives. Issues of power and control link the two narra
tives in another fashion: musical achievement bestows a certain degree of authority over others in the musical narrative in the same way that financial achievement does in the non-musical narrative.

Findley’s novel, The Piano Man’s Daughter, belongs to another type of realistic literature, the Bildungsroman. Like Davies’ Künstlerroman, it takes place in the twentieth-century world and the characters operate in a plausible social structure. Findley, however, revises the conventional narrative patterns of this genre, including elements of the Gothic as well as focusing on the shared space of the narrator and his mother. Both departures from the generic norm are supported by musical discourse; music is an effective structural device in Gothic texts, and it is present in settings which represent the intersubjective spaces shared by Lily and Charlie Kilworth. The musical presence remains constant not only as the text shifts from genre to genre, but also from art form to art form within the narrative, blurring the distinction between linguistic and visual entities. Musical discourse provides a consistent means of translation within the text despite this complexity and, in fact, reflects the manner in which the narrator searches through the elements of his life in his attempt to discover his father.

In Tigana, with its otherworldly setting and magical presence, musical discourse again provides a means by which the reader can interpret the narrative. In this Fantasy, music rather than magic serves as the prevalent textual code that provides an index to Kay’s imaginary world. As in A Mixture of Frailties, there are two narrative paths in Tigana; although magic is present in both, one set of main characters is involved with music while the other is not. It is the presence or absence of musical discourse which determines victory or defeat, and is ultimately associated with the responsible use of magical power. Musical description is an important element in the novel’s imagery, contributing to a narrative rhetoric that enhances the reader’s interpretation of characters and action. The loss of memory is a major theme in Tigana; musicians play a traditional role as keepers of history, and music plays a vital role in retaining personal and cultural identity.

Indeed, issues of identity, illustrated through the discourse of music, provide one of the most evident ways in which these three texts are related. In A Mixture of Frailties, one type of musical study at first draws Monica Gall away from her family and home in Canada and begins to help her to forge ties to a new career in England. Another type of music reconciles her past with her future and allows her to come to terms with her background; while rehearsing and choosing music for her mother’s memorial concert Monica comes to understand that she has inherited many of Mrs. Gall’s qualities, which she then uses as a base for musical artistry. In Tigana, musical discourse enhances the structural cohesiveness of the narrative and reflects the importance of personal and cultural identity. The wordless cradle song which Devin’s father taught to him proves to be a link to the young man’s parents and heritage, while at the same time it serves as a means of identification for others born in that province. Alessan, the exiled Prince of Tigana, chooses a musician’s disguise not only because music is an integral part of his being, but also because he needs an alternate identity which will allow him to at times lay down the burden of his heritage. In posing as a musician he also takes on the traditional role of a keeper of history; in this guise he is able to give Devin information about his background and thus redefine the young man’s identity. In The Piano Man’s Daughter, Findley uses the word “song” not only to convey a sense of an individual’s identity within the world, but also to describe the continuity of life itself. “Songs in the blood” is the phrase Lily Kilworth uses to describe the progression of generations down the ages, but it also provides affirmation of an individual’s place within the world. Further references to songs and singing indicate a connection between music and heredity. Personal mementos help Lily to reaffirm her identity and are also referred to as “songs,” while her son Charlie uses them as keys to help him discover the identity of his father. Personal identity is confirmed in another manner as well – by an association with the business of music. Because of the songs in Charlie’s blood, it is inevitable that his future will be connected to the music business, but even though music runs in Frederick’s veins, as he becomes financially successful in the business of manufacturing musical instruments, he loses touch with his heredity and becomes identified only as a businessman.


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