Who knew that The March King, John Philip Sousa, wrote books besides music?
This was news to me, until recently when I was doing some research, I came across a short list of books he wrote. The first one I was able to get was “The Fifth String.”
This is a retelling of the make-a-deal-with-the-devil. Indeed, there are many different versions of this storyline, including “The Devil and Daniel Webster, “ “Faust,” “Damn Yankees,” “The Devil and Tom Walker,” et al. Sousa’s version is a refreshing change of pace.
Violinist Angelo Diotti is smitten with the lovely Mildred Wallace and makes a deal with the demon Mephistopheles. Everything hinges on the unusual fifth string on a violin Diotti was given – unusual in that violins don’t have a fifth string and unusual for what it is composed of. Not only is this a Faust-esque tale, it is also a twist on the fall of Eve or the curiosity of Pandora – things that lead to man’s downfall or demise.
Sousa is, not surprisingly, a very good writer. His sentences are complex and descriptions are real and vivid. Naturally, because Sousa was primarily a musical composer, “The Fifth String” is rife with beautiful descriptive musical terminology and settings. One of my favorite passages is:
“The audience, ever ready to act when those on the stage cease that occupation, gave a splendid imitation of the historic last scene at the Tower of Babel.”
I can hear the clamor, the multitude of voices in the audience. Sousa’s style, though definitely from a time when speaking and writing may come across as stilted in our present world, is masterful.
This is a book that I would recommend. It can be read in an evening (160 pages), and it keeps the reader’s interest.
“The Fifth String”
Author: John Philip Sousa
Publication date: 1901
November 12, 2016.
©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.