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Literature / The Music of Erich Zann

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"The Music of Erich Zann" is a 1922 short story by H. P. Lovecraft, and considered by the man himself to be among his best work.

The story is narrated by a nameless university student who is forced to take up residence in an apartment building on a peculiar street called "Rue d'Auseil". One of the only other tenants is a quiet old man by the name of Erich Zann. At night, the old man plays his viol, and the student becomes fascinated by the strange, almost indescribable melodies he produces. Convinced the man is some sort of musical genius, the student tries to get to know the old man. Eventually, he comes to realize that something more sinister is afoot, and all is not right with Rue d'Auseil.


Tropes present in this story include:

  • Bizarrchitecture: The houses that populate Rue d'Auseil fall under this category. "The houses were tall, peaked-roofed, incredibly old, and crazily leaning backward, forward, and sidewise. Occasionally an opposite pair, both leaning forward, almost met across the street like an arch; and certainly they kept most of the light from the ground below. There were a few overhead bridges from house to house across the street."
  • Brown Note: Zann's otherworldly music is able to keep terrifying eldritch monsters at bay for a time... but it may also be summoning them.
  • Cool Gate: The window to Eric Zann's apartment seems to lead to another world, represented by a black abyss. And Erich Zann is trying to ensure that anything living in that world stays there.
  • Gonk: Zann is described as having a grotesque, satyr-like face.
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  • The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Despite years of searching, the narrator is never able to find Rue d'Auseil again.
  • No Name Given: The narrator remains unnamed.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The more the narrator (and, by extension, the reader) learns, the less he understands. Just what the hell is Rue d'Auseil? What is lurking in the abyss outside Zann's window? How did Zann die and how was he still able to play the viol? Hell, we don't even get much in the way of a description of what Zann's music sounds like, because, after all, it's hard to describe strange music in text.
  • The Un-Reveal: Zann begins writing down an explanation of what he's doing and why but is interrupted and the narrator flees before reading what he did write.