The Repertoire of Magic Realism

One of my cherished self-indulgences is to read each new Gabriel Garcia Márquez novel as it comes out, and he has never disappointed me. His new Memories of My Melancholy Whores, however, contains this startling sentence:

At noon I disconnected the phone in order to take refuge in an exquisite program of music: Wagner’s Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra, Debussy’s Rhapsody for Saxophone, and Bruckner’s String Quintet, which is an endemic oasis in the cataclysm of his work. [Italics added]

Do the Colombians know something about Wagner that we don’t? Is there a South American Wagner who isn’t Richard?

Actually, this reminds me of the entrance exams I took to start my Master’s at Northwestern. There was a question on the exam: “Debussy wrote chamber music involving the following instruments:”, and then were listed some pairs of instruments. The only answer at all applicable was “flute and saxophone,” and I knew about Debussy’s Syrinx and Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp, but I was pretty certain that he had never written a piece of chamber music using saxophone. So after I was done, I went up and argued with the instructor, Theodore Karp, who later became an important mentor of mine. He claimed there was some chamber arrangement of an orchestral piece with saxophone. Grove Dictionary of Music, as I quickly ascertained, lists no saxophone music among Debussy’s chamber works, but if you rummage around through the orchestral music, there is indeed a piano reduction of his Saxophone Rhapsody mentioned as having been made by one Roger-Ducasse. Even so, that was an awfully obscure bit of repertoire to ask incoming master’s students to know about. It turned out, of course, that if you didn’t pass the test you had to take a remedial course, for which privilege the school charged you an extra $3000. I was the only incoming student that year who passed, and my doctoral exit exams, six years later, were easier than the entrance exams. Ever since I’ve been dubious about grad-school entrance exams, as potentially having more to do with making money for the school than testing worthwhile bodies of knowledge.


  1. carl says

    I daresay that Wagner rhapsody must be an instance of the author’s much-admired magical realism.

  2. bgn says

    There’s an Adagio for clarinet & strings by Heinrich Baermann which used to be attributed to the young Wagner. Could it be that piece, mistranslated as a rhapsody, that Garcia Marquez is referring to?