Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Patrick O’Brian Does the Near Impossible: Describing Music in Prose

 

hqdefaultAs I watch Bob Corker and his Keystone Kops allow Obama to enact a treaty with 34 votes and as I try to ignore the death dance between the GOP and Donald Trump, I have one reliable source of escape and solace: Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin books. I forget about our self-imposed wounds as I’m transported to the main deck of a British man o’ war in the Napoleonic era.

Last night I read from The Yellow Admiral and came across a passage of pure sublimity.

Let me set the stage: Captain Jack Aubrey is a good amateur violinist and Doctor Stephen Maturin plays a competent cello. They often make music together, to the utter disdain of Jack’s steward, the choleric Preserved Killick.

Occasionally they’re able to draft shipmates into their music-making. In this scene, their purser plays the viola and they’ve drafted a young midshipman (an Irish boy named Geoghegan) to play the oboe. The dramatic tension comes as we wonder how the young boy will do in the company of the older officers.

These two paragraphs tell the tale:

They spread their scores, and as they did so Stephen remembered with some concern that in the F major quartet the opening notes were played by the oboe alone: but when, after the necessary squeaking and grunting as the stringed instruments tuned themselves, Jack smiled at Geoghegan and nodded, these same critical notes came out clear and pure, with no over-emphasis–a beautiful round tone in which the strings joined almost at once. And almost at once they were a quartet, playing happily along with as nearly perfect an understanding as was possible on so short an acquaintance.

With scarcely a pause they swam through the elegant melancholy of the adagio, Jack Aubrey particularly distinguishing himself and Stephen booming nobly; but it was in the rondo that the oboe came wholly into its own, singing away with an exquisite gay delicacy infinitely enjoyed by all four. And to all four, in spite of the music before them, it seemed to last for an indefinite space before coming to the perfect simplicity of its end.

That, fellow Ricochetti, is great writing. To be able to recreate the sublimity of beautiful music with only the pen is pure genius.

This kind of writing makes me wonder if all of this political stuff really matters much. Then I read some Solzhenitsyn and remember that politics matters a lot.

Even so, I’m grateful of O’Brian for taking me away, even for a few minutes, from our sadly broken republic. Bogie said to Ingrid, “We’ll always have Paris.” Well, I’ll always have Aubrey and Maturin.

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  1. Clavius Thatcher

    Having finished all the Aubrey / Maturin books several years ago, I have since completed the excellent Hornblower and most of the Bolitho books. I am currently on a detour to the army of the same period in the Richard Sharpe stories. All great escapism and good fun.

    • #1
    • September 2, 2015, at 11:57 AM PDT
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  2. Mr. Dart Inactive

    I too turn to my complete set of Aubrey-Maturin books for the perfect escape. By the time I finish the last book the first book seems new again.

    So, off we go, confident that when the grand adventure ends the Trumpbush Hillarybiden follies will still be there.

    • #2
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:01 PM PDT
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  3. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Clavius:Having finished all the Aubrey / Maturin books several years ago, I have since completed the excellent Hornblower and most of the Bolitho books.I am currently on a detour to the army of the same period in the Richard Sharpe stories.All great escapism and good fun.

    Time to return to Aubrey and Maturin. They never fail.

    • #3
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:05 PM PDT
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  4. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I just rounded the Horn in Blue at the Mizzen for the fourth or fifth time last week and am back in Port Mahon again in the beginning. I have them all on my kindle for reading anytime, anywhere….

    • #4
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:06 PM PDT
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  5. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mr. Dart:I too turn to my complete set of Aubrey-Maturin books for the perfect escape. By the time I finish the last book the first book seems new again.

    So, off we go, confident that when the grand adventure ends the Trumpbush Hillarybiden follies will still be there.

    I think this is my fourth time through. They’re always good because the plot, while compelling, is not really the point. It’s one long novel about the joy of friendship.

    • #5
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:07 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Mama Toad:I just rounded the Horn in Blue at the Mizzen for the fourth or fifth time last week and am back in Port Mahon again in the beginning. I have them all on my kindle for reading anytime, anywhere….

    Have you listened to Patrick Tull’s narration? The narrator and the work are as beautifully aligned as the instruments in that quartet.

    • #6
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:09 PM PDT
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  7. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    Funny, my always-on internal tape happens to be playing “Night Music in the Streets of Madrid” by Boccherini. That was the closing music to the movie Master & Commander.

    I like it that Aubrey and Maturin met at a chamber music performance. Chamber musicians have more fun.

    • #7
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:18 PM PDT
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  8. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    tabula rasa:

    Mr. Dart:I too turn to my complete set of Aubrey-Maturin books for the perfect escape. By the time I finish the last book the first book seems new again.

    So, off we go, confident that when the grand adventure ends the Trumpbush Hillarybiden follies will still be there.

    I think this is my fourth time through. They’re always good because the plot, while compelling, is not really the point. It’s one long novel about the joy of friendship.

    What a wonderful writer! It is indeed the friendship not the plot, though the sea battles in the early books are remarkable. And a reminder I need to reread the series.

    • #8
    • September 2, 2015, at 12:21 PM PDT
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  9. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    And he never explains the seafaring terms, you just learn by osmosis.

    • #9
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:06 PM PDT
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  10. Trinity Waters Inactive

    When I heard that John Kerry said we must earn Iran’s trust, I went into my home office and retrieved volume I and began my third tour.

    • #10
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:08 PM PDT
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  11. Frozen Chosen Inactive

    I finished the series a couple of years back and am really sad that Mr O’Brian did not live longer to write more sequels. They are wonderful books with a very dry sense of humor that I adore.

    I hate to read books more than once but perhaps I should give the series another go…

    • #11
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:11 PM PDT
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  12. katievs Member
    katievs Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    He is a genius.

    I also loved his earlier novel: Testimonies.

    • #12
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:13 PM PDT
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  13. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    tabula rasa: It’s one long novel about the joy of friendship.

    Indeed. It’s an amazing series.

    • #13
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:21 PM PDT
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  14. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    RushBabe49:And he never explains the seafaring terms, you just learn by osmosis.

    There actually is a wonderful lexicon for the novels called A Sea of Words.

    • #14
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:21 PM PDT
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  15. Larry Koler Inactive

    tabula rasa:

    Mr. Dart:I too turn to my complete set of Aubrey-Maturin books for the perfect escape. By the time I finish the last book the first book seems new again.

    So, off we go, confident that when the grand adventure ends the Trumpbush Hillarybiden follies will still be there.

    I think this is my fourth time through. They’re always good because the plot, while compelling, is not really the point. It’s one long novel about the joy of friendship.

    I think you mean “particular friendship.”

    • #15
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:22 PM PDT
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  16. Larry Koler Inactive

    RushBabe49:And he never explains the seafaring terms, you just learn by osmosis.

    Yes. I’ve read all the Hornblower novels, all the Bolitho novels and Seawriter got me hooked on the Alan Lewrie novels (by Dewey Lambdin) and I still would like to learn more about that naval period of wooden ships. It’s a complicated world: a maze of cables, stays, chains, bowers, masts, painters, crow’s nests, bosun’s chairs, carronades, (the list is longer yet).

    • #16
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:29 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    Mark:

    RushBabe49:And he never explains the seafaring terms, you just learn by osmosis.

    There actually is a wonderful lexicon for the novels called A Sea of Words.

    I’d also recommend Harbors & High Seas, which functions both as an atlas of the series and as a very convenient plot summary.

    • #17
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:31 PM PDT
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  18. Randy Webster Member

    The books made me buy a dictionary of sailing terms, but as usual, the words you need aren’t in there.

    • #18
    • September 2, 2015, at 2:58 PM PDT
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  19. Pete Parker Inactive

    I’ve just finished ironing tomorrow’s work shirt while listening to Ric Jerrom on Audible reading “The Mauritius Command”; I sit down with my laptop, log into Ricochet and find a welcome break from your American Trumpery. Which it will be over when it is over.

    • #19
    • September 2, 2015, at 3:05 PM PDT
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  20. Larry Koler Inactive

    Pete Parker: Which it will be over when it is over.

    I see what you did there.

    • #20
    • September 2, 2015, at 3:11 PM PDT
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  21. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RushBabe49:And he never explains the seafaring terms, you just learn by osmosis.

    Or, in my case, you simply let them flow by. I do know what hull-up means, but I’m pretty much lost after that.

    I’m sure O’Brian knew his nautical terms and I’m dead sure Jack Aubrey knows what he’s doing. I approach the books from the Maturin perspective: this is a boat, the white things help it sail. Now let’s get on with the story. You’re in the good hands of Captain Aubrey, so you don’t need to worry about the boat, or ship, or whatever.

    • #21
    • September 2, 2015, at 3:21 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Charles Mark Member
    Charles Mark Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I too read the entire series years ago. I am currently reading the third book of “The Ibis Trilogy” by Amitav Ghosh and recommend it to admirers of O’Brian. The first book is “Sea of Poppies”.

    • #22
    • September 2, 2015, at 3:22 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  23. Jerry Giordano (Arizona Patrio… Member

    tabula rasa:

    Mama Toad:I just rounded the Horn in Blue at the Mizzen for the fourth or fifth time last week and am back in Port Mahon again in the beginning. I have them all on my kindle for reading anytime, anywhere….

    Have you listened to Patrick Tull’s narration? The narrator and the work are as beautifully aligned as the instruments in that quartet.

    Yes, Tull is fantastic. I have all of the Aubrey/Maturin series in my Audible library.

    • #23
    • September 2, 2015, at 3:37 PM PDT
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  24. Randy Webster Member

    When I first started listening to audio books, in the mid-90’s maybe, I heard a wonderful recording of about 15 of the books by a guy named Timothy Piggot-Smith. He was perfect. Whenever I think of someone’s voice, it’s always in his accents. Unfortunately, the books were abridged.

    • #24
    • September 2, 2015, at 4:26 PM PDT
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  25. Banjo Member

    Rereading the Aubrey/Maturin books sounds like an excellent diversion from the news.

    Latitude 38 is a Bay Area publication about all things sailing. In 2000 they published a reminiscence by Tom Perkins (the venture capitalist) of his friendship with Patrick O’Brian.

    https://www.latitude38.com/features/O%27Brian.htm

    There are some surprises about the author but they only add to the wonder of his talent.

    • #25
    • September 2, 2015, at 5:19 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Larry Koler Inactive

    Charles Mark:I too read the entire series years ago. I am currently reading the third book of “The Ibis Trilogy” by Amitav Ghosh and recommend it to admirers of O’Brian. The first book is “Sea of Poppies”.

    Wow! Thanks for informing that this third volume is out. I can hardly wait. I loved the other two books, especially Sea of Poppies.

    • #26
    • September 2, 2015, at 5:21 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Randy Webster:When I first started listening to audio books, in the mid-90′s maybe, I heard a wonderful recording of about 15 of the books by a guy named Timothy Piggot-Smith. He was perfect. Whenever I think of someone’s voice, it’s always in his accents. Unfortunately, the books were abridged.

    Piggott-Smith is an excellent English actor. I’ve listened to some of his Aubrey/Maturin narration and it’s really good. As I said above, I think the late, great Patrick Tull nailed it.

    I’m a big audible fan. Patrick Tull doing Aubrey/Maturin and Juliet Stevenson doing Austen are the gold standard.

    With O’Brian, we have an embarrassment of riches in narrators. I think Simon Vance, an excellent English actor, does some of them.

    • #27
    • September 2, 2015, at 5:21 PM PDT
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  28. Manny Member

    That is great writing and thank you for sharing it. The political stuff hardly pales in importance. What is far more important is reading great writers and appreciating fine music like that described. People who obsess with politics are essentially throwing their lives away. Just think how little one person actually effects a political outcome. Kudos to O’Brian.

    • #28
    • September 2, 2015, at 5:50 PM PDT
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  29. tabula rasa Member
    tabula rasa Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Larry Koler:

    Charles Mark:I too read the entire series years ago. I am currently reading the third book of “The Ibis Trilogy” by Amitav Ghosh and recommend it to admirers of O’Brian. The first book is “Sea of Poppies”.

    Wow! Thanks for informing that this third volume is out. I can hardly wait. I loved the other two books, especially Sea of Poppies.

    Ok. I’m going to check these out, but you two will be responsible when I fail to get my other work done. Can I have Mrs. Tabula call and yell at you instead of me?

    • #29
    • September 2, 2015, at 6:23 PM PDT
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  30. Petty Boozswha Member

    Loved all 17 volumes 20 years ago, I started reading them inspired by a great review in the WSJ by the Secretary of the Navy at the time – Lehman, can’t recall his first name. Wonderful books to get a teenager away from video games if you’re looking for a Christmas gift.

    • #30
    • September 2, 2015, at 8:43 PM PDT
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