Skoryk, Parajanov and the Carpathian connection

A lot of authors have a soundtrack for their work. Often it’s the music they were listening to when they were writing a particular passage. Recently, I contributed to a thread in a Facebook group where writers were sharing what they listened to when writing, and what might also be the soundtrack to their novels.

It started me thinking. Music has formed an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My sister is a musician and used to compose as well, so her songs were a soundtrack for me when I was growing up. My Dad loved trad Jazz, folk songs and sea shanties, and later on Klezmer music. My Mum loved opera, and classical music generally.

So I can’t imagine life without music. And all of my books have their own soundtrack, one that has contributed to the writing and underlies some of the scenes.

I thought I’d start an occasional series, writing about the tracks that have inspired me. I’d love to hear from other writers who do the same or similar things. My tastes in music are eclectic, so this is going to be a wide-ranging thread. I love everything from Classical to Pop, in fact it would probably be easier to list the things I don’t like.

Okay, so who are Skoryk and Parajanov, and what’s the Carpathian Connection?

Sergei Parajanov was an Armenian film director from Georgia, who made a number of famous art-house films. One of his first movies, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, was a tale of love, death and magic set in the world of the Hutsul (ethnic Ukrainian) people of Carpathia. His other films include The Colour of Pomegranates and Legend of the Suram Fortress.

I became obsessed with the soundtrack, but for years I could not find out who composed it. After poking around on the internet, I finally discovered that the composer was Myroslav Skoryk (thank you, IMDb). And that there was a CD of his work available from Naxos, which included a work of 1965 called the “Hutsul Triptych”. It proved to be a suite featuring music from the film…

One piece, called “Dytynstvo”, which means “Childhood” was my favourite. I played it again and again. I first heard it in about 1990, at a time when I was unwell. I find it utterly compelling.

I rediscovered the tune and the composer two to three years ago, when I was writing Winterbloom, my fourth book. The most recent outing was in a playlist I made in September 2016.

I think the music for me is evocative of a place. There have been some amazing photos of the Carpathian Mountains, the landscape that appears in Paradjanov’s film; and as the theme of the Greenwood became more important throughout Winterbloom, I also became fascinated by the Bialowieza Forest in Eastern Poland, a tract of woodland that has remained relatively unchanged for centuries.

The tunes by Skoryk are melancholy and haunting, full of regret and nostalgia for a lost time and place. But the piece called “Childhood” also evokes energy and excitement; the children in the film are running away from a witch into the sunlit forest.

I think when I’m writing, I want to capture that haunting quality. An awful lot of the themes in my shaman series are about guilt, regretting what you did in the past, and how the past overshadows the present. Perhaps the most important theme concerns two girls who attempt to cast a spell for a simple and compelling reason. The spell goes wrong, with disastrous consequences; and that’s the main engine of all the books in the series.