Transcript from a short interview with Mario Vargas Llosa

Transcript from an interview with Mario Vargas Llosa during Nobel Week in Stockholm, December 2010. Interviewer is Camilla Lundberg, Head of the Music Department of Sveriges Television AB.

Mr Vargas Llosa, welcome to Stockholm and to the Stockholm Concert Hall. You have been there before I understand.

Mario Vargas Llosa: I have been there once, several years ago and I remember very well this experience because it was the only time in which I saw personally Segovia, the guitar player, the Spanish guitar player. He was already a bit aged but so lucid, so skilful. It was a very brilliant experience.

Now there will be a big symphony orchestra on stage together with the violin player, Joshua Bell and Sakari Oramo and it’s a repertoire from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius. Does that signify anything for you?

Mario Vargas Llosa: Very much. I am, well not only in music also in literature, but for the great tradition, so you have named some of the great composers of the great tradition.

I understand also that the 19th century literature, French writers like Hugo and Flaubert mean a lot you.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Absolutely a lot. Not only the French, also the Russian that I am a great admirer of course of Tolstoy, of Dostoevsky, of Dickens. I think the 19th century was an extraordinary period for the novel in two senses, because the ambition of the great novelists. They wanted really to compete with God, as builders of societies and also because it was a very privileged moment in the sense that the great literature was the same time the most popular literature. What the great public read at that time was not popular and cheap kind of literary entertainment but the big, big books of the time. I think it was a unique. Since then this has been changing a lot, as it was before. Probably is one of the reasons why the 19th century literature is so attractive to me.

And also, the music of the 19th century of course.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Yes.

And what about the composition, I mean, you do compose your novels don’t you?

Mario Vargas Llosa: I do. I work very much in the structure. I think the structure is as important as the writing, the style. To give a novel this power of persuasion which is so important for the success or the failure of the novel. And I think this is something that happen in the 19th century, particularly with musical compositions.

Do you have a favourite among composers?

Mario Vargas Llosa: I have a favourite. If I have to mention one, I would mention Mahler. I am a great, great admirer of Mahler.

There is a narrative element, a very strong narrative element in his music.

Mario Vargas Llosa: My impression is that he built up his compositions very similarly to the great novelists. The motives for example, how they appear, they disappear, they reappear, building little by little trajectories. Not of characters but musical sequences, I have always had this impression with big Mahler symphonies, that they are like novels in the way they are built up.

It’s an interesting quote by Mahler to Sibelius, they actually meet once, and talked about their symphonies and Mahler said, “Symphonies should be about the whole world”.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Absolutely, yes. This kind of ambition is essential in literature, in music, in art. Ambition if it is a component of something similarly, skilful formal control of the media, of the means, sorry, means, is what produce masterworks.

After the concert, you will appear on stage, to receive a prize. How are your feelings about that? To be on stage yourself.

Mario Vargas Llosa: I am curious about it. We’ll see. What I am sure is that in the future these images that my memory will preserve in detail, will be probably the most moving of all the memories of my life. I never thought I would reach this kind of experience because of writing.

Thank you so much.

Mario Vargas Llosa: Thank you, thank you very much.

Watch the interview

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