Three Experimental
Novels About Music

By Ted Gioia
In any contest to pick the most vitriolic novelist of the 20th
Century, Thomas Bernhard makes the short  list of leading
candidates.   His pugnacious and acerbic manner is now
known worldwide, but the closer one gets to Vienna and
Salzburg, where he lived for so many years, the greater the
antipathy—indeed, no award-winning author of the modern
era is less beloved in his homeland than Bernhard.  There he
is known as a
nestbeschmutzer—a German word, with no
English equivalent, signifying someone who befouls his own

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According to legend and hearsay, Buddy Bolden invented
jazz.  And perhaps he did.  No one has a better claim to
the honor.  But no recordings exist to give credence to the
scattered first-hand testimonies.  Bolden himself didn't stay
on the scene long enough to offer his own assessment of
his contributions to the music.  He lived until 1931, but spent
the last 24 years in a mental institution. No music historian
ever paid him a visit or sent him a letter, and it's not clear he
was in any state to respond to such queries....

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William Gaddis let his novels gestate slowly, spending
a decade or more on each work in his oeuvre.  Yet his
shortest book took the longest to finish.  He first con-
sidered writing about player pianos while working as a
fact-checker at
The New Yorker in the mid-1940s.  But
more than a half-century elapsed before this obsession
resulted in a published book-his
Agapē Agape, released
posthumously in 2002....

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Published: September 30, 2013
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