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By Laurence Vittes | From the May-June 2022 issue of Strings magazine

When the Chiara String Quartet played the six Bartók Quartets from memory in 2016, first violinist Rebecca Fischer told me, “We’re a pretty heady group, and we love the challenge of figuring out what’s going on in the composer’s brain.” Faced with the challenge of figuring out what was in her own brain after the quartet disbanded in 2018 and the pandemic struck, she kept going by “writing about memorization and nostalgia.” In doing so, she reveals a life immersed in art and work.

the-sound-of-memory-rebecca-fischer

The Sound of Memory: Themes from a Violinist’s Life
By Rebecca Fischer
Mad Creek Books, $22.95


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Untethered from musical scores (memorized or not), Fischer tells her story in a graceful, loose-knit narrative that sifts through drifting memories. Her family’s epic crosses landscapes from the grit of Corpus Christi, Texas, to life on the Plains to Ivy League sanctuaries. Both her personal and musical reminiscences are intimate and vulnerable. As a young concertmaster playing her first Beethoven Seventh: “I look up in surprise at the podium… Right away I can tell that the conductor’s tempo is far too brisk; it is marching away from me. I have never played Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony before, but something inside is pulling me slower. I try my best to keep up with the conductor, but it is miserable. I drag behind the rest of the orchestra, almost out of control.”

Fischer writes fiercely about her social-justice activism, describes her sensitivity to the influence of her violin’s previous owners, and reflects on whether John Cage’s 4’33” should be called music. The diary entries she inserts into the 22 chapters are the heart of the book, pulsing with the rhythms of her life as a touring musician and the music that’s always in her head. Sometimes her reveries take the form of a quiet lament, as is the case in the description of her experience playing for the first time after giving it up during the pandemic:

“The vibrations feel like air on my skin. I bend my knees and open my shoulders to start playing a movement from a solo Bach sonata. But the strings cut into my now-soft fingers. The hardest thing, they say, is not performing.”