Collected Stories « PREV | NEXT »: Are you the next Art New England editor?

October 5, 2011

Proust and Music

Last night I attended a brilliant concert at the Morgan Library & Museum, focusing on the music that mattered most to Marcel Proust, in his life and in his writing.  Organized by the Helicon Foundation and held in the gorgeously intimate Gilda Lehrman Hall, the concert featured songs by Reynaldo Hahn (Proust's sometime lover and longtime friend), Camille Saint-Saëns' Violin Sonata No. 1, and César Franck's Piano Quintet in F Minor.  Both Saint-Saëns and Franck have been suggested as models for Proust's Vinteuil, composer of the famous "little phrase" that Swann treasured so deeply and associated with his love for Odette--though ultimately the phrase itself is as fictional as its composer:  it can't actually be found in any real-life music, but only in the marvelously descriptive words of its author.

The high point of the evening came when Richard Howard, noted Proust translator and excellent poet in his own right, read aloud the section of In Search of Lost Time in which Swann first discovered Vinteuil's "little phrase."  Howard read his own English translation beautifully, giving full poetic weight to each verbal phrase, but also giving comprehensible meaning to each sinuous and strangely conversational sentence.  And then, immediately after he spoke, Pedja Muzijevic (on piano) and Jennifer Frautschi (on violin) gave such a splendid and mutually complementary rendition of the Saint-Saëns sonata that I almost seemed to be hearing Proust's account all over again, twining within and around the music as they played.  The performance, that is, lived up to the matchless prose--and that is saying a great deal.

As I left the concert hall, invigorated by the whole concept as well as its flawless execution, I wondered if there were any other writers whose musical tastes could be celebrated in a similar way.  We could have Beethoven's Fifth played in conjunction with E. M. Forster's Howards End, or Thelonious Monk combined with Arne Dahl's Misterioso.  Last year's White Light festival gave us Samuel Beckett's prose mingled with the Schubert lieder he loved, and this year's will offer us T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets and Beethoven's Opus 132.  But none of these combinations has the power of the Proust analogy, for the simple reason that none of these poets and novelists wrote in the manner of their favorite composers.  Only Proust accomplished this seemingly impossible task:  he turned language into music at the same time as he allowed it to retain its descriptive function.  And last night's concert did full justice to his achievement.
October 5, 2011 6:33 AM | | Comments (1)

1 Comments

Hey, you stated in a much more direct way what I was trying to communicate, thanks, I will recommend your site to my friends.

Leave a comment

















Archives

Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


About

    ARTicles ARTicles is a project of 
    the National Arts Journalism Program, an association of some 500 journalists in the United States. Our group blog is a place for arts and cultural journalists to share ideas and information, to celebrate what we do, and to make the case for its continuing value. ARTicles is edited by Laura Collins-Hughes. To contact her, click here.
    more

    ARTicles Bloggers Meet our bloggers: Sasha Anawalt, MJ Andersen, Alicia Anstead, Laura Bleiberg, Larry Blumenfeld, Jeanne Carstensen, Robert Christgau, Laura Collins-Hughes, Thomas Conner, Lily Tung Crystal, Richard Goldstein, Patti Hartigan, Glenn Kenny, Wendy Lesser, Ruth Lopez, Nancy Malitz, Douglas McLennan, Tom Moon, Abe Peck, Peter Plagens, John Rockwell, Werner Trieschmann, Lesley Valdes and Douglas Wolk. more

    NAJP NAJP is America's largest organization dedicated to the advancement of arts and cultural journalism. The NAJP has produced research, publications and discussions and works to bring together journalists, artists, news executives, cultural organization administrators, funders and others concerned with arts and culture in America today. more

    Join NAJP Join America's largest organization of arts journalists. Here's how more

see all archives

Contact: articles@najp.org

Recent Comments