Dec 24 2009 2:00pm

12 Days of Lovecraft: “The Music of Erich Zann”

Hey! Is that Freedom Rock? No! It’s “The Music of Erich Zann”! Well, turn it up!

The Story:

After revealing that he once lived on a street that he has never been able to find since despite diligent searching, our narrator tells us of what happened when he lived there. He had a room on the fourth floor, just below the garret room occupied by the titular genius composer/violinist. Intrigued by the music he hears emanating from the composer’s apartment, he introduces himself and asks to hear the man perform. Erich Zann does perform reluctantly, but does not play any of the strange, unearthly harmonies the narrator heard earlier. When the narrator tries to look out the window, Erich totally freaks out and kicks him out. He later relents and offers to pay for the narrator to move to a lower floor.

He does move, but still sneaks up the stairs to hear Erich Zann’s unearthly harmonies and stuff. One night he’s alarmed by what he hears, so he knocks violently on the door. Zann admits him and, since he can’t talk, begins writing out a catalog of all the horrors he’s faced. Then Zann looks with horror toward the window—at the sound of a low note from outside the window, Zann begins playing more furiously than ever. The candles blow out, and in the darkness, our narrator, apparently still determined to see that fifth floor view, throws open the window and stares into a dark void that is clearly not what the real estate agent meant when she said “panoramic view.” Zann is still playing his music, but touching his face reveals that he is stone dead. At this point our narrator sensibly flees the scene, never to return.

What’s Awesome:

I found this a wonderfully and atypically understated story. It’s clear that something horrible is going on; it’s not clear exactly what it is. Because Zann is unable to speak (except with his music, which is kind of a cool touch) he can’t explain, and when he does, his explanation literally flies out the window. Ultimately this is a story about how there’s a whole lot of weird shit that goes on, and you don’t always get to understand it. This is one of my favorite horror themes, since it seems so fundamentally true of life outside of horror stories too.

What’s Less Than Awesome:

Even I have a hard time complaining about this one. There’s the problem that it’s kind of hard to imagine music that doesn’t sound like any other music, just as it was hard to visualize the heretofore unknown “Colour Out of Space,” but otherwise, this is short, spooky, and to the point. Well done, H.P.!

Seamus Cooper is the author of The Mall of Cthulhu (Night Shade Books, 2009).  He lives in Boston, and fear not: that unearthly music you hear emanating from his room is actually Lordi’s The Arockalypse.

This article is part of December Belongs To Cthulhu: ‹ previous | index | next ›
1. JoeNotCharles
What I love about this one is that it walks the line so beautifully between leaving things unexplained and leaving things senseless. Zahn's actions hang together well enough that it's clear he wrote something coherant on those notes, we just don't get to find out what. The changes in his demeanor show that whatever he's fighting (bringing into being? Being victimized by? We can't tell) is getting worse, but that's all we can really say for sure.

Even the first fact that the narrator can never find this street again is delightfully murky. It resonates because there are a hundred weird tales about people stumbling into a strange shop which they can never find again, because it was never "really" there in the first place. But in this case, we never find out if the street vanishes because of that common twist of reality, or if it was real once but got swallowed up by the mysterious void. Or if it's still there, but the narrator now knows too much to be allowed in. Or if he's just crazy.

(I don't usually comment on the "captcha" settings, because I find it as annoying on other blogs as "first post", but this time my verification words are "corpse special", which is too appropriate not to mention.)
Larry Sica
2. lomifeh
This is one of my favorite short stories by Lovecraft. I think it captures the essence of most of his stories well. The fact that we never fully find out what was going on it great. IMHO too many stores nowadays lay it all out for you.
3. XtremeCaffeine
A definite favourite.

It's much easier, I think, to conceive of music that sounds like nothing else, unworldly music, than to comprehend and unworldly colour.

that is to say, colours tend to be finite, there are only so many that the human eye can differentiate. But music is something completely different, suffice to say that in Lovecraft's day, Elvis Presley could have filled in for ethereal music, the likes of which have never been seen before!
4. Deslandes
Following are some unusual thoughts about the meaning of this story, but I think they are explaining a little, even if most people dont't agree with me.
I can understand that you maybe think my interpretation is derived from too much fantasy or that I'm joking, but I mean what I say. But I'm not offended if you say this is
nonsense, I don't want to convince anybody. I will in short tell you
what brought me to my interpretation.

In this story Lovecraft tells us his strong, startling and frightening
impressions of his first intimate meeting with a woman (obviously Sonja
Greene). He must have been so impressed and struck that this created the
story, but he didn't know it, he wrote the underlying facts of the story

The Rue d'Auseil is a path between a woman's legs which leads to a goal,
her intimate parts (the garret-window).

There is a river "odorous with evil stenches which I have never smelled
elsewhere": It's easy to realize what this river is to be. And it is
"ending at the top in a lofty ivied wall", the pubic hair.

This place "was distinguished by peculiarities which could hardly be
forgotten by any one who had been there", this is for sure.

"On the night I arrived I heard strange music from the peaked garret
overhead", this music is the noise of sexual intercourse. The sounds of
Zann's playing "held vibrations suggesting nothing on this globe of
earth, and that at certain intervals they assumed a symphonic quality
which I could hardly conceive as produced by one player", because it
takes two for such playing.

The music was created by Zann, a viol-player (the viol is played
between the legs) with a "satyrlike face" (the expression "satyr" is
mentioned three times in conjunction with Zann and has its meaning).

"I was haunted by the weirdness of his music", this is easy to imagine
if someone hears this for the first time.

At first Zann doesn't want to play the music the student heard when
listening secretly behind the door, but at last he does and the student
sees his playing growing wilder. "The player was dripping with an
uncanny perspiration and twisted like a monkey", Zann is coming to the
climax of his orgasm, "In his frenzied strains I could almost see
shadowy satyrs and bacchanals dancing and whirling insanely" and "His
blue eyes were bulging, glassy and sightless, and the frantic playing
had become a blind, mechanical, unrecognizable orgy that no pen could
even suggest". Also the expressions "satyrs", "bacchanals" and "orgy"
point to this.

This interpretation also gives answers to some questions arising in
every reader of this story:

Why is the anticipated look through the window disappointing? After the
climax of the playing the student wants to see through the object and
the goal of this, the window (the vagina). Because a look inside this
isn't so beautiful and "omne animal post coitum triste".

Why are the "closely-written sheets" of Erich Zann lost and the reader
doesn't get to know these? Because Lovecraft cannot tell his story
plainly and clearly, he has to hide it.

Why didn't the student find the Rue d'Auseil again? Because he is
frightened to make this experience again.

"I have never met a person who has seen the Rue d’Auseil", he had talked
with nobody about this.

"I do not know how I came to live on such a street, but I was not myself
when I moved there", Sonja Greene was always the one who took the iniative.

I think this interpretation shines also a new light on the above
citations . A closer examination of the text could surely bring more
insights, also a comparison with Lovecraft's life in these times.
5. Sylveax
I actually didn't think it was hard to imagine Zann's music, because since the time Lovecraft wrote the story and today, rock'n'roll was invented. Wouldn't it sound unearthy if, in the 20ies, someone would start playing "Thunderstruck" (AC/DC) on a cello? (Yes Zann was cellist, Lovecraft admitted that in a letter).
I think of this song, because the version of it by "Two Cellos" (google it) immidiatly reminded me of this story

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