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  • Writer's picturePete Mesling

Unintended Consequences: How Robert McCammon and Matthew Corbett Led Me Back to George Frideric Hand

It wasn’t out of any psychological necessity that I decided to seek out some music to play as I sat down with a passage from the sixth book of Robert McCammon’s epic series of Matthew Corbett novels set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Honest. But I did sense that I was moving into a very grim section of Freedom of the Mask and got to thinking that it might be fascinating to pair the ugliness of so much of Corbett’s world—especially in this particular book—with an example of higher achievements from the same era and locale.

Bear in mind that I almost never listen to music when I read, or write. I love music too much to ignore it and have yet to be convinced that the term background music is anything other than a euphemism for bad music. Once in a blue moon, however, I take a stab at listening to something for the duration of a chapter or two, just for the hell of it.

Handel seemed like a logical choice here. I’ve enjoyed a great deal of his keyboard and choral work in the past and have often thought it would be nice to familiarize myself with more of his music. In looking for something that dated to about 1703, the year in which Freedom of the Mask is set, I stumbled upon Handel’s Chandos Anthems. They came a little later than Corbett's introduction to jolly old England but would surely bear the impressions from the composer’s youth, which would have encompassed 1703. Equally important, they were performed by Handel while he was in London. I had my selection.

And thanks to the seemingly inexhaustible catalog of the music-streaming service I subscribe to, I was able to find a series of gorgeous recordings. So, while poor Master Corbett endured a rather unpleasant trip to the dentist, the ethereal vocal arrangements of the Anthems flitted playfully among the runs of chamber music that kept them aloft. It was precisely what the doctor had ordered. Before me was the lowest, basest behavior of the human animal in concert with the the highest and proudest of aspirations.

And just like that, I had a new body of music to explore. The Anthems have already turned out to be among my favorite pieces by Handel. So a heartfelt thank you to Mr. McCammon, not only for a series of adventure novels that I wish could continue without end, but also for bringing new music to my attention: a reminder that the chain of our influence is long and unknowable. It’s true for the evil acts of the world, but it’s also true for the good. Maybe I learned that from him over the years.

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