Moonight Sonata, Ludwig von Beethoven
I spent a lot of time listening to Beethoven sonatas, trying to pick Mélanie’s favorite. I resisted this piece because I was afraid it was too obvious, but I kept coming back to it. This hauntingly beautiful music somehow seems right for Mélanie. She is playing it in the drawing room during Charles and Honoria’s scene on the terrace. It was only after Beneath a Silent Moon was published that I learned, to my profound embarrassment, that this sonata wasn’t called the Moonlight Sonata until after 1817 when the book is set. I was very happy to be able to correct this in the trade reissue. After consulting with a pianist friend, I reworded the lines to have Charles thinks of it as “Mélanie’s favorite Beethoven sonata, the one that always put him in mind of moonlight shimmering against water.”
Il catalogo è questo, Don Giovanni, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart & Lorenzo da Ponte
Leporello’s aria about Don Giovanni’s legion of conquests sums up Honoria’s and Val’s attitudes toward their love affairs. Mel refers to the aria, adding that Val’s appeal was “The eternal lure of Don Juan. Women like to think he’s looking for his one true love and that they’ll be the one to tame him. And all the time all he wants is another name to add to his infernal list.” That line came out of a talk I had with my friend Penny Williamson after a performance of Don Giovanni.
A Weekend in the Country, A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim
I love stories where characters with tangle lives and tangled love affairs converge at country house parties, as they do in both Beneath and in A Little Night Music. This song captures the delights and plot complications of a country house party story perfectly.
Per pietà, ben mio, perdona, Così fan tutte, Mozart & da Ponte
As the puzzle pieces are swirling in his head, Charles unconsciously finds himself picking out this aria on his mother’s Broadwood grand pianoforte. In this aria, Fiordiligi resists (with increasing difficulty) the impassioned pleas of her would-be lover Ferrando, not understanding that she is caught up in a romantic game that hinges on a bet. As Mel says, Charles’s choice of music is “Perhaps more apt than you know.”
No Place Like London, Sweeney Todd, Stephen Sondheim
I’ve always loved Sweeney Todd, but it wasn’t until I was watching the recent movie, not long before the reissue of Beneath, that I realized how much this opening song where Sweeney returns to London by boat, reflects Tommy’s attitude in the prologue to Beneath.
ll core vi dono, Così fan tutte, Mozart & da Ponte
Mel recalls joining Charles at the piano in a rendition of this duet, where Dorabella succumbs to Guglielmo’s romantic games. The Merola Opera Program did Così fan tutte the summer I was working on Beneath, and the opera, with its tension between a vision of love as a game and what treating love as a game does to the emotional reality, was definitely an influence on the book.
Being Alive, Company, Stephen Sondheim
As I’ve said before, my idea for Beneath began with the scene between Charles and Mélanie at the end of the book. The inspiration was that scene was the concluding scene in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeyroom and this concluding song from Stephen Sondheim’s Company. A song that brilliantly and poignantly sums up why people need other people. And also, I think, sums up Charles’s opening up to Mel at the end of the book.
Do you have any pieces of music to add to the Beneath playlist? I’d love to hear some suggestions. Any pieces of music that call to mind other favorite books? Writers, do you come up with playlists for your own books?
I was watching North & South last night (for the umpteenth time), so in honor of it, this week’s addition to the Fraser Correspondence is a letter Simon writes to David while visiting his family in the industrial north.