The Descent of the Lyre

Written by Will Buckingham
Review by Penny Wild

In the summer of 1811, armed men take off with a young bride-to-be; left devastated, and with rage boiling within him, the bridegroom departs his parents’ house and heads for the bitter lawlessness of the mountains. The father had bid the Virgin save his son and do with his life what she will, but the music was already there; it was in the name his mother had once sung to her unborn son; it was in his lineage; it was in the place of his birth, and through it he was to become legend.

Years later, and resonant of Orpheus’ charming of the King of the Dead, a captured musician is bid to play – for his life. The Descent of the Lyre is an immensely rich and rhythmic reinvention of the great myth of Orpheus; it is the legend of Ivan Gelski, the man whose “name spoke of blossom, music and death”.

Leading us deep into the lands of the ancient Thracian empire, Buckingham guides us gently, so that we too might find our feet, on an unmarked path, sharing with us his journey as he draws out the threads of the tale of Ivan Gelski, saint.

The Descent of the Lyre tells not only of the origins of the guitar, of the essence of true music, plucked and drawn out by more than perfection alone, but of Ivan’s descent, just as Orpheus before him shunned the world of the living and descended into the Underworld.

Do not mistake this for a mere retelling. This is masterful storytelling, such that one cannot help but sense the ancient thrum, the pulse quickening, and deep down the feeling that the music really has been there all along.