Historical Seasons > Past Symposiums

Helicon at The Morgan Library & Museum

Tuesday, 4 October 2011 @ 7:30pm

“Réalitiés Invisibles”
Music from the Life of Marcel Proust

The Morgan Library • 225 Madison Avenue


  • I - PROUST IN LOVE — Reynaldo & Marcel

    “One is always inspired when speaking of what one loves. The truth is that one should never speak of anything else.” (Letter from Proust to Hahn)

  • Songs & Waltzes

    Si mes vers avaient des ailes
    Dans la nuit

    Valse pour pianoPas vite, simplement (à l'ombre rêveuse de Chopin)

    À Chloris
    Fêtes galantes
    Quand je fus pris au pavillon

    Valse pour pianoAvec élégance

    L'heure exquise


    Reynaldo Hahn

  • II. THE LITTLE PHRASE — Swann & Odette

    “. . . the little phrase by Vinteuil which was, so to speak, the national anthem of their love.” (from Swann’s Way)

  • Passage from “Swann in Love”

    “In Search of Lost Time” Swann’s Way, Vol. 1

              translated and read by Richard Howard


    Marcel Proust

  • Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75 (1885)

    Allegro Agitato — Adagio 
    Allegro Moderato — Allegro Molto


    Camille Saint-Saëns


    “For some years Beethoven’s last quartets and the music of Franck has been my principal spiritual nourishment” (Proust to Mme. Albert Hecht, March 1916)

  • Piano Quintet in F Minor, Op. 7 (1878-79)

    Molto moderato
    Allegro non troppo 


    César Franck



Program Notes by James Roe, Artistic Director

    “Réalités Invisibles” — Music from the Life of Marcel Proust

    Helicon in Concert at The Morgan Library & Museum

    “Music is the invisible art,” Helicon’s founder Albert Fuller was fond of reminding his students and friends.  “It is not the notes on the page or the vibrations in the air, it is the way we feel when we get the composer’s message."

    The title of Helicon’s program, “Réalités Invisibles,” is taken from a passage in Marcel Proust’s seven-volume novel, À la recherche du temps perdu, where principal character, Swann, searches for a haunting piece of music he has heard without learning its title or composer.  Approaching the musicians he encounters, Swann asks them to play recent compositions, hoping to recognize “the presence of one of those invisible realities” that could lead him to the work he sought.

    One evening during a house concert, Swann recognizes the lost piece.  As he listens, he “was able to picture to himself its extent, its symmetrical arrangement, its notation, the strength of its expression; he had before him that definite object which was no longer pure music, but rather design, architecture, thought, and which allowed the actual music to be recalled. This time he had distinguished, quite clearly, a phrase which emerged for a few moments from the waves of sound. It had at once held out to him an invitation to partake of intimate pleasures, of whose existence, before hearing it, he had never dreamed, into which he felt that nothing but this phrase could initiate him; and he had been filled with love for it, as with a new and strange desire.”

    Swann learns that the piece is the Violin Sonata in F Sharp by a composer named Vinteuil, and like a recurring melody, Vinteuil’s music becomes a cyclic element interwoven in the very fabric of Proust’s novel, integral to the work’s complex structure and its characters’ understanding of desire, love, and destiny.  The music of Vinteuil stands as one of literature's great inventions; so real on the page, yet entirely imaginary.

    Tonight’s program presents music from Proust’s life, inviting audience and musicians to share the invisible art that was in the author's memory and imagination as he created his great masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu.


    I - PROUST IN LOVE — Marcel & Reynaldo

              Reynaldo Hahn (b Caracas, 9 Aug 1874; d Paris, 28 Jan 1947)
              Songs and Waltzes

    In 1874, Reynaldo Hahn was born in Caracas to a Venezuelan mother and an affluent German-Jewish businessman, the last of their twelve children. To escape growing political unrest, the family left South America for Paris in 1877 and Hahn would never revisit the country of his birth.

    A child prodigy, Hahn played the piano at the age of three, made his concert debut at six, composed his first songs at eight, and at ten, he entered the Paris Conservatoire as a student of Jules Massenet.  In 1888, Le Figaro published his setting of Victor Hugo’s poem, Si mes vers avaient des ailes.  It was an immediate sensation, bringing Hahn the admiration of Parisian high society.  This song remains one of his best-known works and opens tonight’s program.

    On 22 May 1894, Hahn met Marcel Proust at the celebrated salon hosted by painter Madeleine Lemaire.  With sympathetic tastes and dispositions, the two quickly fell in love and, considering the time in which they lived, conducted their relationship with uncommon openness. (Oscar Wilde’s trial for “gross indecency” began in 1895.) Though their romance lasted only two years, the artists remained close friends throughout their lives.

    At the time they met, Hahn was already giving performances in the most exclusive salons in Paris.  Accompanying himself at the piano, he would sing his own songs and those of others, a cigarette effortlessly balanced between his lips.  He was also a gifted improviser, and the two brief waltzes presented tonight demonstrate the spontaneity of impromptu entertainments.  

    Between 1887 and 1890, Hahn set Paul Verlaine’s poems from Chansons grises to music.  One of the most affecting of the group, L’heure exquise, closes this section of the program.  These delicate, vaporous songs entranced Proust, who described Hahn singing them with “his head thrown slightly back . . . in the most beautiful, saddest and warmest voice ever heard.” 


    II. THE LITTLE PHASE — “Swann & Odette”

              Marcel Proust (b Auteuil, 10 Jul 1871; d Paris, 18 Nov 1922)
              “The performance of Vinteuil’s Sonata at the Verdurin Salon”
                        from “Swann in Love” translated by Richard Howard

              Camille Saint-Saëns (b Paris, 9 Oct 1835; d Algiers, 16 Dec 1921)
              Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75

    Swann is captivated—obsessed, in fact—by a melody, a “little phrase,” that recurs throughout Vinteuil’s Violin Sonata in F Sharp.  This musical motif becomes fused in Swann’s mind with his love for a young woman from a lower social sphere named Odette.  They are regular guests at a salon hosted by Mme Verduirn where Vinteuil’s sonata is frequently performed, and this is where Swann first learns the identity of the piece.  Tonight, Richard Howard reads his own translation of the passage describing Swann’s encounter with Vinteuil’s sonata at Verdurin’s salon.

    As Swann’s feelings for Odette intensify, the little phrase becomes “the national anthem of their love,” denoting the creation of a new world with borders defined by their relationship. Swept into this world by Vinteuil’s music, Swann becomes quite lost, feeling “himself transformed into a creature foreign to humanity, blinded, deprived of his logical faculty, almost a fantastic unicorn, a chimera-like creature conscious of the world through his two ears alone.”

    Since the publication of À la recherche, scholars and the general public have embarked on their own search for an unknown piece of music, namely the model for Vinteuil’s sonata.  Proust revealed to French novelist Jacque de Lacretelle that the original idea for the “little phrase” came from the recurring melody in Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, a 1910 draft of À la recherche even includes that attribution.  Saint-Saëns’ sonata, however, only opens the door to Proust’s imaginative journey.

    In his book “Proust as Musician,” Jean-Jacques Nattiez writes that from those early drafts to the finished novel, “the little phrase passes from Saint-Saëns to Vinteuil to such effect that nothing in the text makes us think of Saint-Saëns.”  Vinteuil’s is the unheard music of the imagination, and to fulfill its role in Proust’s novel, it must remain idealized for each reader, free the vagaries of personal taste and experience.



              César Franck (b Liège, 10 Dec 1822; d Paris, 8 Nov 1890)
              Piano Quintet in F Minor

    In 1916, Proust wrote that “for some years Beethoven’s last quartets and the music of Franck have been my principal spiritual nourishment.” The music of these composers, along with Debussy and Wagner, greatly stimulated Proust’s thinking about the creative process, informing the musical meditations late in À la recherche.

    Proust was acquainted with the musicians of the celebrated string quartet, Quatuor Poulet.  Late one night, he paid a surprise visit to the apartment of the quartet’s first violinist, Gaston Poulet, consumed by the desire to hear a piece by César Franck that very night. The violinist followed Proust to a waiting car and they drove around Paris, collecting the other quartet members. By the time the performance began, it was nearly one in the morning.  When the musicians finished, Proust sat in silence for a long time and then asked to hear everything again from the beginning.  Poulet later described the novelist’s attention during their performance, “Proust was a marvelous listener, straightforward, direct, a man who drank in music without raising any questions.”

    Certain works of Franck were particularly important to Proust both as a listener and a novelist.  Among these was the Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, the hour-long String Quartet in D Major, and the Piano Quintet in F Minor that closes the program tonight.

    Following Franck’s death, Proust wrote in the April 1893 edition of Revue blanche that the authentic masterpieces of Franck’s “mind and heart revealed a new world of supreme impression and inexpressible emotions.”  The “new world” Proust describes in his elegy for Franck presages a pivotal passage in À la recherche describing the late music of Vinteuil.  “Each artist seems thus to be the native of an unknown country, which he himself has forgotten, different from that from which will emerge, making for the earth, another great artist. When all is said, Vinteuil, in his latest works, seemed to have drawn nearer to that unknown country.” 

    This passage culminates in a metaphysical realization for the novel’s narrator as he contemplates the role of artistic expression in our lives.  “The only true voyage of discovery, the only really rejuvenating experience, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is . . . with men like [Vinteuil] we do really fly from star to star.”

Songs by Reynaldo Hahn — Texts & Translations

    Si mes vers avaient des ailes (1888)

    Mes vers fuiraient, doux et frêles,
    Vers votre jardin si beau,
    Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
    comme l'oiseau. 

    Ils voleraient, étincelles,
    Vers votre foyer qui rit,
    Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
    comme l'esprit. 

    Près de vous, purs et fidèles,
    Ils accourraient, nuit et jour,
    Si mes vers avaient des ailes,
    comme l'amour!

    My verses would flee, sweet and frail,
    To your garden so fair,
    If my verses had wings,
    Like a bird.

    They would fly, like sparks,
    To your smiling hearth,
    If my verses had wings,
    Like the mind.

    Pure and faithful, to your side
    They'd hasten night and day,
    If my verses had wings,
    Like love!

            (Poem by Victor Marie Hugo, 1802-1885. Translation © Richard Stokes.)


    Infidélité (1891)

    Voici l'orme qui balance
    Son ombre sur le sentier:
    Voici le jeune églantier,
    Le bois où dort le silence.
    Le banc de pierre où le soir
    Nous aimions à nous asseoir. 
    Voici la voûte embaumée

    D'ébéniers et de lilas,
    Où, lorsque nous étions las,
    Ensemble, ma bien aimée!
    Sous des guirlandes de fleurs,
    Nous laissions fuir les chaleurs.

    L'air est pur, le gazon doux ...
    Rien n'a donc changé que vous.

    Here is an elm that sways,
    Its shadow on the path;
    Here is the young wild rose,
    The woods where silence sleeps;
    The stone bench where, at evening,
    We would love to sit.

    Here is the fragrant canopy
    Of ebony and lilac trees,
    Where, when we were tired,
    Together, my beloved,
    Beneath garlands of flowers,
    We would let the heat waft by!

    The air is pure, sweet the grass ...
    Nothing has changed but you!

            (Poem by Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier (1811-1872, Translation © Richard Stokes.)

    Mai (1889)

    Depuis un mois, chère exilée,
    Loin de mes yeux tu t'en allas,
    Et j'ai vu fleurir des lilas
    Avec ma peine inconsolée. 

    Seul, je fuis ce ciel clair et beau
    Dont l'ardent effluve me trouble,
    Car l'horreur de l'exil se double
    De la splendeur du renouveau. 

    En vain le soleil a souri,
    Au printemps je ferme ma porte,
    Et veux seulement qu'on m'apporte
    Un rameau de lilas fleuri; 

    Car l'amour dont mon âme est pleine
    Y trouve parmi ses douleurs
    Ton regard dans ces chères fleurs
    Et dans leur parfum ton haleine.

    It is a month, dear exile,
    Since you vanished from my gaze,
    And I have watched the lilacs bloom
    With my sorrow unassuaged.

    Alone, I avoid these lovely clear skies,
    Whose blazing rays disquiet me,
    For an exile's dread increases
    With the splendor of nature's renewal.

    In vain the sun has smiled;
    I close my door to the spring,
    And wish only to be brought
    A lilac branch in bloom!

    For Love, which fills my heart to overflowing,
    Finds among its sorrows
    Your gaze in the midst of those dear flowers,
    And in their fragrance your sweet breath!

            (Poem by François Coppée, 1842-1908. Translation © Richard Stokes.)

    Dans la nuit, from Les feuilles blessées, no. 5 (1904)

    Quand je viendrai m'asseoir dans le vent, dans la nuit,
    Au bout du rocher solitaire,
    Quand je n'entendrai plus, en t'écoutant, le bruit 
    Que fait mon coeur sur cette terre,
    Ne te contente pas, Océan, de jeter
    Sur mon visage un peu d'écume!
    D'un coup de lame alors il te faut m'emporter
    Pour dormir dans ton amertume!

    When I come and sit in the wind, in the night,
    On the edge of the rocky cliff,
    When I no longer hear, listening to you, the sound
    My heart makes on this earth,
    Do not be satisfied, Ocean, to toss
    On my face a little foam!
    With the swipe of a wave you must then carry me away
    To sleep in your bitter depths!

            (Poem by Ioannes Papadiamantopoulos, pseudonym Jean Moréas, 1856-1910. Translation © Laura Sylvis.)

    À Chloris (1916)

    S'il est vrai, Chloris, que tu m'aimes,
    Mais j'entends, que tu m'aimes bien,
    Je ne crois point que les rois mêmes
    Aient un bonheur pareil au mien.
    Que la mort serait importune
    De venir changer ma fortune
    A la félicité des cieux!
    Tout ce qu'on dit de l'ambroisie
    Ne touche point ma fantaisie
    Au prix des grâces de tes yeux.

    If it be true, Chloris, that thou lovst me,
    And I understand that thou dost love me well),
    I do not believe that even kings
    Could know such happiness as mine.
    How unwelcome death would be,
    If it came to exchange my fortune
    With the joy of heaven!
    All that they say of ambrosia
    Does not fire my imagination
    Like the favor of thine eyes.

            (Poem by Théophile de Viau, 1590-1626. Translation © Richard Stokes.)

    Tyndaris, from Études Latines, no. 7 (1900)

    Ô blanche Tyndaris, les Dieux me sont amis :  
    Ils aiment les Muses Latines;
    Et l'aneth et le myrte et le thym des collines  
    Croissent aux prés qu'ils m'ont soumis. 

    Viens ; mes ramiers chéris, aux voluptés plaintives,  
    Ici se plaisent à gémir ;
    Et sous l'épais feuillage il est doux de dormir  
    Au bruit des sources fugitives.

    Oh, white Tyndaris, the gods are friends to me:
    They love the Latin Muses;
    And dill and myrtle and thyme from the hills
    Thrive in the meadows they gave me.

    Come! My beloved ring-doves, delighting in grief,
    Here are pleased to moan;
    And beneath dense leaves it is sweet to sleep
    To the sound of running springs.

            (Poem by Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, 1818-1894. Translation © Richard Stokes.)

    Fêtes galantes (1892)

    Les donneurs de sérénades
    Et les belles écouteuses
    Échangent des propos fades
    Sous les ramures chanteuses. 

    C'est Tircis et c'est Aminte,
    Et c'est l'éternel Clitandre,
    Et c'est Damis qui pour mainte
    Cruelle fit maint vers tendre. 

    Leurs courtes vestes de soie,
    Leurs longues robes à queues,
    Leur élégance, leur joie
    Et leurs molles ombres bleues, 

    Tourbillonent dans l'extase
    D'une lune rose et grise,
    Et la mandoline jase
    Parmi les frissons de brise.

    The givers of serenades
    And the lovely women who listen
    Exchange insipid words
    Under the singing branches. 

    There is Thyrsis and Amyntas
    And there's the eternal Clytander,
    And there's Damis who, for many a
    Heartless woman, wrote many a tender verse. 

    Their short silk coats,
    Their long dresses with trains,
    Their elegance, their joy
    And their soft blue shadows, 

    Whirl around in the ecstasy
    Of a pink and grey moon,
    And the mandolin prattles
    Among the shivers from the breeze.

            (Poem by Paul Verlaine, 1844-1896, titled “Mandoline.” Translation © Emily Ezust.)

    Quand je fus pris au pavillon, from Douze rondels, no. 8 (1898–9)

    Quand je fus pris au pavillon
    De ma dame, très gente et belle,
    Je me brûlai à la chandelle
    Ainsi que fait le papillon. 

    Je rougis comme vermillon,
    A la clarté d'une étincelle,
    Quand je fus pris au pavillon. 

    Si j'eusse été esmerillon
    Ou que j'eusse eu aussi bonne aile,
    Je me fusse gardé de celle
    Qui me bailla de l'aiguillon
    Quand je fus pris au pavillon.

    When I was taken to the pavilion
    of my lady, noble and fair,
    I burnt myself on a candle,
    as does the moth on a flame.

    I blushed vermilion,
    bright as a spark,
    when I was taken to the pavilion.

    If I were a falcon,
    or had his strong wings,
    I could protected myself
    from she who torments me,
    when I was taken to the pavilion.

            (Poem by Charles, Duc d'Orléans, 1394-1465. Translation by James Roe.)

    L'heure exquise, from Chansons grises, no. 5 (1887-90)


    La lune blanche
    luit dans les bois.
    De chaque branche 
    part une voix 
    sous la ramée.
    O bien aimée.... 

    L'étang reflète,
    profond miroir,
    la silhouette
    du saule noir
    où le vent pleure.
    Rêvons, c'est l'heure. 

    Un vaste et tendre
    semble descendre
    du firmament
    que l'astre irise.
    C'est l'heure exquise!

    The white moon
    shines in the woods.
    From each branch
    springs a voice
    beneath the arbor.
    Oh my beloved ...

    Like a deep mirror
    the pond reflects
    the silhouette
    of the black willow
    where the wind weeps. L
    et us dream! It is the hour...

    A vast and tender
    seems to descend
    from a sky
    made iridescent by the moon.
    It is the exquisite hour!

            (Poem by Paul Verlaine, 1844-1896. Translation © Grant A. Lewis.)