This green and pleasant land

The theme of this year's Aldeburgh festival is landscape. Writer-in-residence Adam Thorpe introduces his short story about an Englishman who won't accept its demise

This story came unbidden. It was not what I expected to happen. As writer-in-residence for this year's Aldeburgh music festival, one of my tasks was to write something for the programme. As the festival's connecting theme is "landscape", I felt obliged to produce something lyrical, even bucolic. After all, the programme includes Vaughan Williams's In the Fen Country, Holst's Egdon Heath, Birtwistle's Silbury Air, and Butterworth's beautiful response to A Shropshire Lad: works that are plangent, lyrical, homely, rural rather than urban. Why is English music always so, well, English? Why is any country's music as distinctive as its bread? Can we say that of its literature?

Also included is Ian Bostridge singing Schumann's Dichterliebe. Schumann's setting of Heine's nature-soaked, Romantic love poems has always seemed to me subtly disturbing, even sinister at times, reflecting the ambivalence Heine felt about poetic truth. Heine's works were banned by the Nazis: the poet was Jewish. Dreams of landscape can so easily become nationalist nightmares of purity, of those who "belong".

In the end, something sprang up that reflects my own ambivalence. My hero is a man who refuses to accept the demise of the English landscape by inverting the usual process of nostalgia and making a ghost of the present. He finds solace in old country guides, but acts radically. If the story is imagined as a piece of music, then the extracts from his guidebook would be the Elgar or Butterworth or Vaughan Williams moments - but they would be embedded in atonal dissonance, with a smudge of (bad) pop for the shopping centre.

There's a connection here with the rhythms and textures of the prose, the ebb and flow of its structure, but only a slender one. I sometimes write to music, especially if there's a specific period to be evoked, but there's a danger that the music provides the emotion that ought to be irrigated solely by the words. It's a substitute.

I am intrigued by the professional world of music, so I look forward to the concerts, rehearsals and get-togethers in Aldeburgh. Musicians demand of themselves an extraordinary level of application. Very few people can play, say, a concerto in front of a discerning audience; even fewer can compose one. There's a long and hard apprenticeship, a technique, an esoteric language to master, in jazz as well as classical. I don't see the equivalent in the average new "literary" work, perhaps because the tools of critical discernment are far blunter. Mass literacy has never meant mass literariness.

Aside from settings, lyrics and libretti, the worlds of writing and music are curiously separate: initiatives like Aldeburgh's help to throw the odd line over, perhaps spark something. As my next project is a novel about the grim Robin Hood of the early ballads, I'm hoping to glean the latest on popular medieval music. Writers are, above all, creative opportunists.

Adam Thorpe

The GuardianTramp

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