Music & Literature celebrates Paul Griffiths

Innovative arts journal promotes the work of Welsh-born writer, critic, and librettist
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Music & Literature (No.7): Paul Griffiths, Ann Quin, Lera Auerbach

Today’s artistic landscape can often feel like a busy marketplace, where voices compete for attention and creative validation. And, as a result, some voices do not get heard. Since its launch in 2012, Music & Literature has been a torchbearer for writers and artists that are often neglected by the mainstream: its first issue was notable for its discussion of avant-garde composer Arvo Pärt, offering an unprecedented glimpse into his life, work, and motivations. Scott Esposito points out that the journal offers ‘the kind of thing that’s unavailable anywhere else’, and he’s right. Music & Literature is a fascinating read for enthusiasts, and a valuable cultural resource for scholars.

Now publishing its seventh volume, Music & Literature is celebrating the work of Welsh-born writer, critic, and accomplished librettist Paul Griffiths. His first novel, Myself and Marco Polo: A Novel of Changes (1989), is a work of speculative fiction that reimagines the life of the world traveller through his memoirs. More recently, Griffiths translated eleven Japanese noh plays, published as The Tilted Cup: Noh Stories (2014) in a beautifully illustrated volume. Paul Griffiths has written five librettos, and is an insightful commentator on modern classic music; he is the author of a number of critical works on topics ranging from electronic music to the history of the string quartet, and was a music critic for both The New Yorker (1992-96) and The New York Times (1997-2005). As if that wasn’t enough, Griffiths is also the biographer of a number of modern composers, from György Ligeti and Bela Bartók to John Cage and Igor Stravinsky.

“How does one begin to assess such a prodigious output? The editors of Music & Literature, Taylor Davis-Van Atta and Daniel Medin, have put together a rich compendium of new criticism and unearthed materials.”

How does one begin to assess such a prodigious output? The editors of Music & Literature, Taylor Davis-Van Atta and Daniel Medin, have put together a rich compendium of new criticism and unearthed materials. James Wood explores the origins of an opera based on Jonathan Swift’s satire, Gulliver’s Travels. Matthew Mendez interviews Griffiths on music criticism and the influence of figures like Borges, Calvino, and Beckett. We also get a generous sampling of Griffiths’ own work, from poetry to commentary to prose.

One of the standout highlights of the issue was an interview with Griffiths conducted by Scott Esposito. Their conversation focuses on let me tell you, an experimental novel written from the perspective of Hamlet’s Ophelia – most notably, the novel comprises only the words that Ophelia actually speaks in Shakespeare’s play. The “Oulipian twist” of Griffiths’ experiment raises a number of interesting questions about the nature of language and agency, while also challenging our preconceptions about the established Western literary canon.

“Through engaging conversations, rarely-seen materials, and beautiful colour illustrations, Music & Literature succeeds in celebrating Paul Griffiths, Ann Quin, and Lera Auerbach as important artistic voices.”

The issue also explores the work of British experimental writer, Ann Quin, featuring contributions from Deborah Levy, John Hall, Jennifer Hodgson, and Joanna Walsh. The issue devotes its final third to Russian-born poet, composer and visual artist Lera Auerbach, and includes a number of interviews, translations, and examples of her striking artwork. Through engaging conversations, rarely-seen materials, and beautiful colour illustrations, Music & Literature succeeds in celebrating Paul Griffiths, Ann Quin, and Lera Auerbach as important artistic voices.

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