A pianist amidst the ocean

“You’re never really done for, as long as you got a good story and someone to tell it too.”

(Max Tooney in The Legend of 1900)

In his theater monologue Novecento Italian writer Alessandro Baricco gives a fascinating account of the life and times of Danny Boodman T. D. Lemon 1900, a fictional piano wunderkind born on the ocean liner Virginian who was destined never to set foot on land.

Baricco’s relationship with music is intimate (he has published a book on Gioachino Rossini and worked as a music critic for La Repubblica) and his Novecento is a joy to read. I particularly enjoyed his reflections on the nature and limitless possibilities of music making:

“We were playing because the Ocean is vast and scares you, we were playing so that people could forget the passing of time, forget where they were and who they were. We were playing so as to make people dance, because if you dance you feel like God and cannot die. And we were playing ragtime, because that’s the music God dances along when nobody watches.”

“So think now: a piano. Its keys start somewhere. And end somewhere. You know they are eighty-eight, nobody can tell you otherwise. They are not infinite. You are infinite, and so is the music you can make on these keys.”

Baricco’s story was made into a film in 1998 called The Legend of 1900, starring Tim Roth and directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. The film’s magnificent soundtrack is composed almost entirely by Ennio Morricone and it contains some truly captivating piano music. Alongside the Italian maestro, Roger Waters also contributed to the film’s soundtrack by performing and writing the lyrics for the piece Lost Boys Calling.

In the story’s  heartbreaking finale, leaving the Virginian and facing the immensity of real life proves too overwhelming for the legendary pianist. Still, his unique music lives on, if only in the memories of all those who were once blessed to be among his audience.

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