Nagmusiek is a startling addition to contemporary South African fiction and biography. The book is both a scholarly study of the Afrikaans composer Arnold van Wyk and a work of fiction in which the author/biographer—who is and is not Stephanus Muller—highjacks his own literary undertaking. It is an extraordinary meditation on the art of biography, on South African classical music under the apartheid regime, and on the complicated relationship between life and fiction. Van Wyk’s musical composition, for which this book is named, is a ‘modernist poem of loss, of pain, of flickering memory, of dignified death’. Muller sets out to explore Van Wyk’s work and in the process creates an epic and genre-defying work of his own.
This is an important book, a profoundly scholarly undertaking that will be a vital contribution to the field of Van Wyk studies in South Africa, but at the same time a groundbreaking work of experimental fiction.
Stephanus Muller was raised in the Karoo and studied music and musicology at the universities of Pretoria, South Africa and Oxford. He teaches musicology at the University of Stellenbosch, where he is also the founder and head of the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS). He has published research and essays on many South African composers and is the co-editor of A Composer in Africa: Essays on the Life and Work of Stefans Grové (2006) and Gender and Sexuality in South African Music (2005).