The Composer is Dead


Written by Lemony Snicket , Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Music by Nathaniel Stookey

HarperCollins, 2009

The composer is dead.  “Composer” is a word which here means “a person who sits in a room, muttering and humming and figuring out what notes the orchestra is going to play.”

Previously Reviewed Books from this Author:  The Dark

The Composer’s death is deemed suspicious, so the Inspector comes in to solve the case and he begins by interviewing the members of the orchestra, starting with the violins.  As he moves through the different sections of the orchestra, each of them shares its alibi and lack of motive, usually having something to do with the musical role they play.  The flutes, for example, use the alibi that they were working on their bird imitations.    After interviewing all the instruments, the Inspector accuses the Conductor of the murder.  The orchestra protests that the Conductor didn’t work alone, since orchestras have been butchering composers for years.  But they also point out that orchestras have also kept those same composers alive, so it sort of evens out.

The detective is described as clever and handsome.

The detective is described as clever and handsome.

This very entertaining story began as a musical piece, originally commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony, to be performed with an orchestra and a narrator.  It was first performed in 2006, with author Lemony Snicket as the narrator and Edwin Outwater conducting the symphony playing music composed by Nathaniel Stookey.  It has since been performed by multiple symphonies and is a wonderful piece to introduce young people to different musical instruments and their role in the orchestra.  Of course, with Mr. Snicket at the helm, this is no boring lesson.  The whole thing is infused with his trademark (slightly dark) humor.

Illustrator Carson Ellis knows a little something about music, as she is married to Colin Meloy, lead singer for The Decemberists.  In addition to creating the album art for several of their CDs, she also illustrated the Wildwood series of juvenile fiction books that her husband has written.  (Have I mentioned that I love husband and wife collaborations?  Because I do.)  Her art style here perfectly complements the story and is more geared toward furthering the story than just presenting drawings of the different instruments.

To make this excellent package complete, the book comes with a CD that features the full musical piece, narrated by Mr. Snicket.  I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading along in the book while listening to the CD.  As a violist who spent six years playing in full orchestras, I thought all of his characterizations of the instruments were spot on, including, of course, the required dismissal of violas.  (Sigh.)  And my copy of the book is extra special because it was autographed by the author during his last visit here.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that composers give us a musical framework and it’s up to the individual musicians to bring it to life.


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