Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Rossini’s moment of randomness

with 2 comments

This week’s discussion of intentional randomness reminds me of a beautiful story, which I first read in W.H. Auden’s The Dyer’s Hand, about the composer Gioachino Rossini, best known for The Barber of Seville. Rossini was writing his opera Moses in Egypt when, he says, a charming friend kept him up all night. The following day, exhausted, he made a careless mistake:

When I was writing the chorus in G Minor, I suddenly dipped my pen into the medicine bottle instead of the ink; I made a blot, and when I dried it with sand (blotting paper had not been invented then) it took the form of a natural, which instantly gave me the idea of the effect which the change from G minor to G major would make, and to this blot all the effect—if any—is due.

Which is not so different from what John Gardner says in On Writers and Writing: “A typo of ‘murder’ for ‘mirror’ can change the whole plot of a novel.”

On Rossini’s story, Auden observes: “Such an act of judgment, distinguishing between Chance and Providence, deserves, surely, to be called inspiration.” The process of writing a novel, much like that of an opera, is full of such moments of providential chance. The writer’s task, along with much else, is to know what to do when they happen.

Written by nevalalee

December 18, 2010 at 12:25 am

2 Responses

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  1. When this happens to a gardener it’s called a happy accident!


    December 18, 2010 at 5:52 am

  2. And gardening must have a lot of those moments! (I haven’t done a lot of gardening myself, but I wonder if some gardeners become more interested in such happy accidents as they grow older and more experienced…)


    December 18, 2010 at 10:09 am

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