Helicon at The Morgan Library & Museum
Tuesday, 4 October 2011 @ 7:30pm
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 piano: Pas vite, simplement (à l'ombre rêveuse de Chopin)
Quand je fus pris au pavillon
Valse pour piano: Avec élégance
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
Violin Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 75 (1885)
Allegro Agitato — Adagio
Allegro Moderato — Allegro Molto
III. SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT — Proust & Music
“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)
Allegro non troppo
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.
III. SPIRITUAL NOURISHMENT — Proust & Music
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,
My verses would flee, sweet and frail,
(Poem by Victor Marie Hugo, 1802-1885. Translation © Richard Stokes.)
Voici l'orme qui balance
Here is an elm that sways,
(Poem by Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier (1811-1872, Translation © Richard Stokes.)
Depuis un mois, chère exilée,
It is a month, dear exile,
(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,
When I come and sit in the wind, in the night,
(Poem by Ioannes Papadiamantopoulos, pseudonym Jean Moréas, 1856-1910. Translation © Laura Sylvis.)
À Chloris (1916)
S'il est vrai, Chloris, que tu m'aimes,
If it be true, Chloris, that thou lovst me,
(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 :
Oh, white Tyndaris, the gods are friends to me:
(Poem by Charles-Marie-René Leconte de Lisle, 1818-1894. Translation © Richard Stokes.)
Fêtes galantes (1892)
The givers of serenades
(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
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
The white moon
(Poem by Paul Verlaine, 1844-1896. Translation © Grant A. Lewis.)