Anne Inglis reads Rebecca Fischer’s memoir of life in the Chiara Quartet and general musings on music  

The Sound of Memory: Themes from a Violinist’s Life

The Sound of Memory: Themes from a Violinist’s Life

Rebecca Fischer

200PP ISBN 9780814258224

Mad Creek $22.95


It is a brave call to end an 18-year association with your fellow musicians as did the Chiara Quartet in 2018. The players had consistently received reviews for ground-breaking performances exploring memory, cohesiveness without the barrier of a score, and the harmony within this perfect balance of united purpose of individuals. This was a time-limited association and comes with its outcome of regret and yet renewed purpose for growth. At least that’s how I read it. One of the results is this fascinating part-memoir, part-autobiography, with poetry and musings on life, family and music.

Many of these ruminations are explored or recounted openly, drawing on reactions to experiences or the directions that life has taken. There is real erudition, too. This is no unfocused ramble and page-filling exercise. There is a feeling of intangibility in this book, almost as if the reader is filling in the blanks in their own responses, yet the writing includes recounting of the routines of a musician’s life, the challenges of combining parenthood with the road, and the inevitability of the author’s calling as a musician, with no choice but to continue to create the next generation of musicians in her family.

The book becomes more readable and relaxed as it progresses, and addresses its various themes with increasing fluency. But the scene is set from the start, and deals with themes of music heard in the womb, with family inheritance, and whether the musical imperative is inherited by Fischer’s own children. She moves between topics of attitudes to breastfeeding on tour, her ability to cope with this close relationship and its end, the role of her body in performance, and how her children cope with societal judgements. There is an engrossing chapter on the living, breathing memory of wood and the energy of objects, as well as the personalities of stringed instruments. She writes about sleep and the variety of sleep aids, this chapter beginning with a typical mixture of the practical and then the embroidery, layered and interwoven with the theme.

These reflections are fascinating yet strangely amorphous, difficult to grasp yet leaving a clear footprint in the reader’s memory. Included, too, are memories of touring, visiting (evidently, although last names not mentioned) Réné Morel and Jacques Francais in New York with her father, and the sickening smell of the men’s cologne. At the end she addresses the pandemic and the effect of an absence of performances, how her calluses dropped off, and the possibly ephemeral connection with her instrument.

Each chapter starts and meanders, sometimes in an unpredictable direction, but with always with a real ability to put these musings on paper with clarity and depth. The Sound of Memory is a book for the shelves, to dip into, to refresh one’s own thinking and to realise that being a performing solo artist is a complicated, thinking process. This book is a personal, absorbing response to the author’s practical and creative journey.