The Theme of Music in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

‘She realised suddenly that there was something about music that had never been revealed to her before: it was not merely the production of sweet sound; it was, to those who understood it, an emotional and intellectual odyssey.’
The theme of music takes on many forms and is central to understanding many characters and situations in the novel. The title of the novel itself mentions the all-important Mandolin, which emphasizes its importance beyond anything else.
When we are first introduced to Captain Corelli’s mandolin, it is instantly evident that he has given it a woman’s name, Antonia, personifying the object. He also refers to the playing of the instrument as if it is crying in his arms as he plays it. As the main focus in this book is eventually the relationship between Pelagia and Corelli, music appears to play an important role in this relationship.

Pelagia cannot work out why it is that a talented musician would settle for a life in the army, and it is this mystique and talent that attracts her to the Captain. There are evident fronts that both Pelagia and Corelli both put on, Pelagia as the innocent and stern Greek who’s duty it is to hate the Italians, and Corelli as the Italian soldier getting drunk with prostitutes. But it seems that when Corelli begins to play his mandolin, both these fronts disappear to be replaced by Pelagia’s genuine admiration and Corelli’s genuine love for the instrument.
The link between the mandolin and the relationship is made clear by Corelli’s comparison of the instrument to Pelagia as well as the sound it makes:
‘How like Pelagia is a mandolin, how gracious and how lovely’
‘I think of Pelagia in terms of chords’
Not only does the mandolin and its sounds reflect the attraction of the couple, but it also sums up quite perfectly the situation that prevents them from being lovers, as Corelli mentions in chapter 42.
‘Pelagia is sad and I pick up Antonia and play re minor. She looks up and says “That’s exactly how I was feeling, how did you know?” and I would have liked to have said, “Pelagia I love you, and that is how I know”‘
The theme of song appears throughout the novel, many characters display a need and a use for music and this becomes evident when considering this theme. The uses for music in the novel are varied and it is interesting to compare each use of music in different situations to gain insight into its value.
Lemoni, the innocent and pure child that everyone in the villiage has time for uses song to keep her amused, and to create a relationship with the wild animals she loves so much. It is mentioned that insanity is only acceptable when one is a child, and Lemoni’s attempts to teach a stray dog to sing in chapter 9.
‘”He’s singing! He’s singing!” Cried Lemoni and joined in “A-ee-ra, a-ee-ra, a-eera”
She also plays with the crickets and gets herself bitten by one. It is not mentioned but perhaps Lemoni is drawn to the loud song of the cricket and may have attempted to sing along with them too. Her purity and wild, uncorrupted interpretation of the songs of the animals seem to bring her closer to them. We never see Lemoni playing with the other children in the villiage, perhaps there are none but it would appear more likely that she seeks her companionship in the singing animals she spends all her time with.
Another example in the novel where song is used for an alternative reason is when the brigands are found by Carlo and Francesco, drunk and singing in the tower that they have seized by force. One would assume that any outlaws would be lying low, or on heavy guard for attackers, but it seems this half-hearted war against people not really considered to be the enemy has brought out the side of the soldiers that would prefer to be drunk and mid-song than armed and waiting for combat. This element makes it that little bit harder for Carlo and Francesco to kill these men not so different from themselves, but in times of war these feelings are expected to be brushed aside by soldiers.
‘There was the sound of singing from the tower, and it seemed they must have been a little drunk’
But it is not just the situation of war that brings about song in the characters in the novel, it seems that any chance of celebration, whether it be a small victory, the ringing of the church bells, a tradition or the arrival of an expected miracle requires musical accompaniment of some sort.
‘Finally arrived at the point where singing was both natural and inevitable, they sang together a cantada’
So from Corelli’s gentlemen’s singing club, to Lemoni’s singing animals, and the composition of Pelagia’s march, it is not difficult to identify the importance of music, song and sound in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.


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