Rule of Three
My Brilliant Friend
by Elena Ferrante
In the ‘violet light’ of a Naples courtyard, a friendship blossoms between two girls. Enjoying the spring evening, they defy their mothers’ instructions by delaying their return home. Elena, the story’s narrator, makes a habit of mimicking Lila’s daring behaviour, rising to any challenge thrown her way. On one day, the pair may stretch their arms down manholes. On another, they may push safety pins into their palms to form ‘whitish tunnels’. Elena seems aware of the foolishness entailed in imitating such dangerous, pointless exercises, yet she is also inspired by her playmate’s nerve. This tension defines the girls’ relationship, which arcs across Ferrante’s four Neapolitan Novels.
Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou
Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H
by Sofia Gubaidulina
At one point in J. S. Bach’s epic yet unfinished Art of Fugue, the composer introduces a four-note motif that spells out his surname, proceeding to subject it to contrapuntal invention and technical trickery. With Reflections, Sofia Gubaidulina both borrows this B-A-C-H theme and riffs on the incomplete nature of its parent work. Her piece begins with isolated tremors, extended silences, and fragmentary gestures that seem to lose their way. The string quartet gradually coalesces into a unified entity, the instruments moving together towards a climax, but then breaks off before achieving resolution. For a brief moment, the music approaches a soundworld that would be at home within Bach’s own compositions, but the likeness vanishes as quickly as it arose.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
A bass guitar hastily repeats quaver notes, drums pound, cymbals shiver, and a distorted electric guitar line descends. A vocalist spits out lyrics, her delivery urgent and unsettling: ‘I woke up and I saw / The face of a guy / I don’t know who he was.’ The music that accompanies her seems to be locked in a continuous crescendo. Its visceral energy throws the listener forwards for the entirety of the song’s three-minute duration. Velocity builds. Adrenaline pumps. Feedback and echoes merge, swallowing clauses from the singer’s mouth. When the chorus comes, she latches onto the title and subjects it to desperate repetition. Further listens reveal a melancholy message beneath the obliqueness: one about feeling lost and needing to escape, even at the cost of abandoning everything.
Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe
My Brilliant Friend is the first novel of Elena Ferrante’s quartet of Neapolitan Novels. Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H was written for string quartet. Savages are a quartet.
More to discover
My Brilliant Friend: Read an excerpt of the book here. Find out more information on Elena Ferrante’s website here. Meghan O’Rourke has written about the author for The Guardian, and Molly Fischer has written about Ferrante and female friendships for The New Yorker.
Reflections on the Theme B-A-C-H: Listen to the composition here.