A university student is forced, by his lack of funds, to take the only lodging he can afford. In a strange part of the city he had never seen before, on a street named "Rue d'Auseil", he finds an apartment in an almost empty building. One of the few other tenants is an old German man named Erich Zann. The old man is mute cellist (HPL: Selected Letters 3.503) with a local orchestra. He lives on the top floor and when alone at night, plays strange melodies never heard before. Over time, the student gains Zann's trust, and eventually learns of his secret, that the old man has discovered melodies and rhythms of sound of an almost otherworldly nature. Zann plays these sounds to keep back unknown and unseen creatures from Zann's window, which is said to look out into a black abyss, most likely another dimension. One night, Zann's music reaches a crescendo, and the student, staring out the window in hopes of seeing the normal world outside, instead stares into an infinite abyss. The window shatters, and an unnatural wind sweeps through the room, carrying away all of Zann's music notes into the darkness, despite the students attempts at catching them. Fleeing the house after he finds Zann seemingly dead despite his body still playing the cello, the student escapes not just the house but the neighborhood entirely. Years later, he writes down his accounts, and tells that he has never been able to find Rue d'Auseil again, as it does not appear on any maps, and no one else seem ever have heard of it.
The setting of the story is presumably Paris, though the city is never named. "Auseil" is not a true French word, but it has been suggested that Lovecraft derived it from the phrase "au seuil," meaning "at the threshold." (EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia) Auseil is read like "oseille," meaning sorrel or, colloquially, money.
Lovecraft considered "The Music of Erich Zann" one of his best stories, in part because it avoided the overexplicitness that he saw as a major flaw in some of his other work.
An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia notes that it "might, however, be said that HPL erred on the side of underexplicitness in the very nebulous horror to be seen through Zann's garret window."
- James Wade wrote a sequel to the story, "The Silence of Erika Zann", first published in The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976).
- In Charles Stross's The Laundry Files novels series including The Jennifer Morgue, The Fuller Memorandum, The Apocalypse Codex and The Rhesus Chart one of the characters has a violin made by an "Erich Zahn" which is made from human bones and, when played, eats the soul of the intended victim.
- Panu Petteri Höglund's collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories in Irish, An Leabhar Nimhe, includes a story called "Paappana, nó Ceol Erkki Santanen," with several allusions to this story, such as the name of the protagonist, Erkki Santanen.
- A short film adaptation was directed by John Strysik in 1980.
- American composer Raymond Wilding-White created a piece in 1980 by the same name for violin and electronics, with Eugene Gratovich of DePaul University in the role of the university student.
- Univers Zéro's album Ceux du dehors (1981) includes a track titled "La musique d'Erich Zann". According to drummer and bandleader Daniel Denis, all members read the short story in the studio and promptly improvised the piece. 
- German technical thrash metal band Mekong Delta titled their 1988 second album The Music of Erich Zann after the story.
- British Anarcho-punk band Rudimentary Peni featured a depiction of Eric Zann on the original cover of their 1988 album Cacophony.
- Hungarian Metal band Without Face has a song called "The Violin of Erich Zann" on the 2002 album Astronomicon.
- German ambient band Forma Tadre titled their 2008 album The Music of Erich Zann.
- Greek death metal band Septic Flesh references the story in the song "Lovecraft's Death" on their 2008 album Communion.
- Alexey Voytenko composed "The music of Erich Zann" for violin solo in 2009.
- American thrash metal band Revocation song "Madness Opus" off their 2014 album Deathless is based of off The Music of Erich Zann.
- Eric Zann is a pseudonym of Jim Jupp, who has released an album on the Ghost Box Music record label.
- French composer Claude Ballif wrote stage music of the same name.
- S. T. Joshi (ed.) ed. (1984) . "The Music of Erich Zann". In S. T. Joshi (ed.) ed., The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. Definitive version.
- Harksen, Henrik. Metaphysics in "The Music of Erich Zann" . Denmark: H. Harksen Productions, 2003 for the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association Mailing No 123 (July 2003).
- "H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Music of Erich Zann'", The H. P. Lovecraft Archive; publication history and full story text