“Brahms’s Lullaby” in Arts & Letters.

I don’t recall, now, how I stumbled across the story, but I was reading something—probably half into some Wikipedia hole—when I came across a small anecdote about the early days of recording technology. The story went like this: Thomas Edison had sent an associate to Vienna in the late 19th century to get a recording of Johannes Brahms. The recording—using the nascent technology Edison’s labs had developed—still exists, and involved Brahms playing a few pieces on piano, a few comments in English, and some other indecipherable things.

Having always been fascinated with, and a fan of, Brahms, the story instantly struck me, and I wondered, exactly, what must have transpired during that recording. I pulled a couple Brahms biographies and tried to put the visit into context, and it was there I stumbled—always stumbling, because that’s the best way to find a good story—on the history of the Wiegenleid, his famous lullaby. Suddenly it all fit: the recording, the lullaby, and everything that was going on in my life, which included the stress and joy of being a new father. I’d never written historical fiction before, so this story ended up being a fun experiment, too.

Much of that, to use a musical metaphor, was transposed into this story. Theo’s not me (though Theo was the associate’s real name his personal background is all fiction) and the Brahms in there probably isn’t quite the real Brahms, although the actual pieces he plays, his apartment’s location, the panoply of trash cans, and many other details etc., are all real-life things.

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