I read a short story a long time ago and I can neither remember the title nor the author. The main character is a musician. He is sequestered and allowed to play all day on some kind of a fantastic instrument; however, he has been barred from listening to any music for fear that it will stifle with his innate creativity. Someone secretes him some Bach, he listens to it, and is then caught and cast out. He gets a series of jobs and is inevitably punished for breaking some music-related taboo.

Any ideas?

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    Another fine story, but the title eludes me. The main characters is believed to be unusually gifted with musical sense and creativity. Many of the punishments are amputations each leaving him unable to "cheat" in the way he was, and each forces him into a lower status and more demanding job than he was doing before. Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 22:55

1 Answer 1


The story is Unaccompanied Sonata, by Orson Scott Card. I have it in Card's Maps in a Mirror collection.

The story, as you remembered well, is about a musical prodigy who is isolated at an early age, allowed only to listen to the sounds of nature so as not to be tainted by existing music. His "fantastic instrument", as you say, is referred to only as The Instrument:

It was a console with many keys and strips and levers and bars, and when he touched any part of it a sound came out. Every key made a different sound; every point on the strips made a different pitch; every lever modified the tone; every bar altered the structure of the sound.

(Maps in a Mirror, pg.278)

But he hears some Bach, and it's reflected in his compositions, and he is punished and cast out, and then repeatedly punished again, severely, when he continues to create music despite not being authorized to.

It's a great story.

  • Excellent, thank you so much! Off to the library...
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 23:09
  • Glad I could help. I've read that story more than a decade ago but it really stuck in my head. Commented Jul 7, 2013 at 23:10
  • He revisits this idea in Songmaster -- the issue there is the pure voices of children becoming corrupted with knowledge beyond their ken.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jul 8, 2013 at 4:02
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    Correction: Bach isn't reflected in his music, because he makes a deliberate effort to avoid having anything that sounds remotely Bachlike... and as a result, there's a Bach-shaped hole in his music, and that's how he's caught.
    – user3969
    Commented Jul 19, 2019 at 18:42

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