Most of us remember Anthony Burgess not as the author of dozens of novels, as well as short stories, essays, and poems, but as the author of A Clockwork Orange. This owes, for better or for worse, to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film adaptation of the “badly flawed” American edition of Burgess’ 1962 dystopian satire, although even if A Clockwork Orange didn’t overshadow the rest of his literary career, his literary career would probably still overshadow what he considered his life’s truly serious endeavor: music.
“I wish people would think of me as a musician who writes novels,” Burgess once went so far as to say, “instead of a novelist who writes music on the side.” Since even those of us who’ve read widely in his bibliography may never have heard any of the over 250 pieces of music he wrote in his lifetime, today we offer you a listen as well as a look at his orchestral compositions.
In the Spotify playlists embedded here (and if you don’t have Spotify’s free software, you can download it here), you can hear the albums Burgess: Orchestral Music, The Piano Music of Anthony Burgess, and the anthology Anthony Burgess: The Man and His Music (the title of that last a reference to This Man and His Music, the book that brought together his two great pursuits most directly).
“Music was at the heart of Anthony Burgess’s creative life,” says the site of The Burgess Foundation, who there have made “scores of his music available free of charge to anybody who wishes to study or play it.” Prolific in his writing as well as his composing, Burgess’ music includes a piece only discovered in 2012, nearly twenty years after death; the news clip at the top of the post briefly tells the story of Burgess’ “lost sonata,” his earliest surviving complete musical work.
Many of Burgess novels, including but hardly limited to A Clockwork Orange, suggest a deep interest and understanding of music, but they also (recall the Droogs’ wide lexicon of invented slang) reveal a similar capacity for linguistics. Call no Burgess fan a completist, then, unless they’ve read his books, heard his music, and also read his translations. “Translation is not a matter of words only,” the man once said. “It is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” Practiced in fields as “untranslatable” as poetry and as translation-independent as orchestral music, he should know. But one wonders: what other little-known cultural side career remains hidden in the depths of the Burgess archives?
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.