The Irwell Edition of the Works of Anthony Burgess, published in hardback by Manchester University Press, is a new series which aims to bring all of Burgess’s novels and non-fiction books back into print. Each volume contains an editor’s introduction, a newly edited text, extensive notes and annotations, plus previously unpublished materials drawn from the Burgess archives in Europe and North America. One of the first volumes in the series is A Vision of Battlements, an early Burgess novel which has been out of print since 1965.
A Vision of Battlements is a twentieth-century retelling of Virgil’s epic poem The Aeneid, set in Gibraltar during the Second World War. Richard Ennis, a young musician who has been conscripted into the British Army, is posted to the garrison on the Rock, where his task is to prepare soldiers for life after the war. He becomes embroiled in an extra-marital affair with a Spanish widow, and he undergoes a series of misadventures, including being threatened by brutal experts in unarmed combat and falling under suspicion of stirring up a mutiny in the ranks.
The novel is saturated with music, both composed by Ennis and imagined by him, and these musical references occupy a central place within Burgess’s text. To celebrate the appearance of this novel in its first new edition for more than 50 years, we have compiled a playlist (available via Spotify), which reveals the full range of music that is mentioned in the text. It is clear from this playlist that Burgess’s musical tastes were unusually wide: the novel mentions little-known items from the classical repertoire, sea shanties, large-scale choral and orchestral works, pieces for Spanish guitar, operas, songs and ballets. In many respects the music in A Vision of Battlements anticipates the compositions that Burgess himself would go on to write in his second artistic career as a musician.
We hope you will enjoy listening to the music that Anthony Burgess heard in his inner ear while writing his first full-length novel.