Introduction to the Book Club Magazine by
Lars Saabye Christensen
They call themselves The Young Pianists’
Association, a group of young adults, still in grammar school in
Oslo during the late 60s. They are very distinctive individuals,
both competitors and friends, but they have one thing in common
that ties them together: the music.
And that is sufficient. They are the pianists
of the future, soon to make their first appearance in the
Assembly Hall. They are under a consistent and almost inhuman
pressure, from parents, teachers, educators, critics,
impresarios, and, not the least, from themselves.
They are they young masters struggling to
master their own lives. Their names are Rebecca Frost, Anja
Skoog, Ferdinand Flood and Margrethe Irene.
And, of course, Aksel Vinding, the
narrator and the focal point of the novel, the young man who is
the very core of the story. He is nothing like other boys his
age. He doesn’t like soccer, he doesn’t like bandy, he gets
terrified by all the fighting and has never heard of The Beatles
or The Rolling Stones, but, on the other hand, he is on first
name basis with Bach, Schubert and Brahms, and he is not
comfortable anywhere else but at the piano.
A family falling apart
In a spectacular and dramatic opening scene
we get introduced to the Vinding family; the parents, the older
sister – eccentric and scandalous Catherine – and the fifteen
years old Aksel. It is Sunday, they are having a picnic, not at
Bogstadvannet, where everybody else who lives in Røa, just
outside Oslo, tends to go, because the Vinding family is not
like everybody else, but further down the river, where they can
be by themselves, left alone. Suddenly Aksel’s mother is drawn
away by the current, towards the waterfalls. His father wants to
try to save her, but Aksel holds him back, seeing that it’s
impossible, and not wanting to lose both of them.
The mother drowns and leaves behind a
shattered family, three lonely, wounded human beings, which have
to continue their lives with the burden of that sunny Sunday,
when the tragedy hit them in such a ruthless manner, a tragedy
that will haunt Aksel for ever.
That’s why he escapes even further
into the music. It becomes his sanctuary. It becomes his
salvation and reason for living. He practices hour after hour
each day. He finally quits schoool, to dedicate himself
completely to the classical music. And that is how he meets his
equals, boys and girls with the same frame of mind, his toughest
competitors as well as his only friends, in the Young Pianist’s
The dream of triumph
It’s not just the music which prospers in
this small group, a kind of subculture, more or less isolated,
with its very own rituals and guidelines. In this intense and
intimate atmosphere, there is something else which also
flourishes: the eroticism, the obvious as well as the forbidden
kind. Aksel is obsessed by the mysterious and unreachable Anja
Skoog, the most talented as well as the most abused of them all,
and he sees himself being pulled into a relationship that he
can’t master, a dark existence filled with secrets and
suspicions, in which one of them has to go down.
Perhaps this is one of the lead motifs
in the novel: obsession. We meet these young, talented and
lonely people, obsessed by the music, by themselves, by each
other, and, maybe most of all, they are obsessed by the dream to
succeed: to become the best.
A secluded society
This secluded society, almost without
interference from the outside, only open up when they enter the
podium to play, to show who they are and what they can achieve.
There are unforgettable descriptions of the young masters’
debuts and concerts: Rebecca who stumbles on her dress on her
way up to the podium in the assembly hall and falls flat on the
shine polished floor, in front of a breathless and stunned
audience; Aksel who, in the same place, gets interrupted in mid
performance by his drunk sister’s loud sheering; Anja Skoog who
gets disturbed during her debut, also in the assembly hall,
because Aksel has taken the wrong seat in the audience.
Til Musikken is a family drama, an
artist novel and a captivating portrayal of a young man’s
obsession and love. I suspect that only Ketil Bjørnstad, with
his unique artistic experience, could have written this novel,
and it is a novel he just had to write, sooner or later.
It must have been both joyful as well
as painful writing it.
Lars Saabye Christensen