Protagonist Musicians in SF, pt.2—Erich Zann

TITLE: Music of Erich Zann (available here)
AUTHOR: H.P. Lovecraft
YEAR: 1922

A perpetually poor student in Paris finds an affordable residence in a part of the city that doesn’t actually exist, but seemed to for a short while. While living on the fifth floor, he hears music, eerie music, disconcerting music, coming from the sixth floor and wants to find out more.  He meets Erich Zann who plays viol(!).  By day/evening Zann plays for theater orchestras, but by night/early morning plays music for an audience beyond……..  When our poor student meets EZ, says he wants to meet/listen, EZ humors him at first with some typical classics. Student is curious about the other music, EZ sends him away, mortified to know that student has been eavesdropping. EZ later relents, allowing student to witness him playing the “music” for something not of this world/time/space/cosmic psychology.  Student flees in horror, tries to return, but can never find the neighborhood ever again.

1) EZ plays viol for crying out loud!  Though HPL did not know much about music, we are given the impression that he is technically proficient, musically knowledgeable, etc.
2) Despite constant playing and practicing, EZ can still only afford to live in the cheapest parts of town
3) EZ hates to know that other people are listening to him when he is not performing.

Music is the most ephemeral of the arts, and HPL takes that to a further extreme—ephemeral to the point of supernatural.

As with most HPL, the narrator is a unwitting-observer, so the reader is not sure what it is exactly that EZ is doing, or where he’s getting his music from.  One wonders if he is attempting to communicate with the beyond through music, or if he’s taking dictation for new ideas, though his reticence does not lend itself towards the latter.  One could read this short story as a play on the adage “Music soothes the savage beast”.

Yes.  HPL called this one of his favorites, and it does have a certain flavor and pacing that stands out from the rest of his oeuvre. Short and crisp, psychologically compelling enough to be a gateway to the rest of HPL’s work.

© 2014 Peter J. Evans, theorist

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