Do you have to be a music lover to love Proust?

Music has been one of the biggest passions of my life.Marcel Proust confided in historian and journalist Jacques Benoist-Mechin in 1922. I say has been for now I have very little chance of hearing it except in my memory. […] It runs through all my work like a golden thread. Marcel Proust summarizes all the importance of music in his life and titanic creativity in one thought: Golden thread continues for seven volumes Research.

At the turn of the 20th century, music and literature shrug. Although music seems to be more of a pretext than the real object of literature, Proust wants to raise it higher. The author talks about its beauty rather than seeing it as an abstract aesthetic art. influence of this art, capable of expressing what cannot be described in literature, to break with the rational tradition of words and grammar. In his own words, Proust explores the power of musical experience on memory and soul.

Marcel Proust, music lover

Fascinated by classical music from an early age, Marcel Proust enjoyed café-concerts and popular music. bad music “in Pleasures and days, 1896) from the great figures of the period, including Paulus, Mayol and Mistinguett:

Hate bad music, don’t despise it. […] Its zero place in the history of Art is very large in the sentimental history of societies. I do not say respect, love, because bad music is not only a form of what can be called the philanthropy of good taste or its skepticism, but also an awareness of the importance of the social role of music. »

When Proust began to write the first sentences of his masterpiece, he already benefited from a rich musical culture. His mother and grandmother are talented pianists, and young Marcel has been introduced to the piano since childhood. There is a box at the Paris Opera, where his family regularly goes. He also attends concerts at the Paris Conservatory. Finally, Proust is a music critic in his spare time, esp gallic.

He first entered the Parisian salons through Jacques Bizet, son of the composer Georges Bizet, and joined the salons of Ernesta Stern and Madeleine Lemaire, where he met the great figures of the French music scene of the time. It was there that Proust met the composer Reynaldo Hahn in 1894.

A deep friendship develops between the two artists and becomes a fusional relationship, albeit short. One can imagine that Proust’s taste in music was influenced by his closeness with Hahn, but on the contrary, their relationship is strengthened by debate and confrontation of musical considerations. If Reynaldo admired the works of Massenet (his teacher at the Conservatoire) and Saint-Saens, Marcel admired the music of Wagner, Debussy and even Stravinsky even more. Proust, with his usual elegance, will not see this conflict of tastes: I don’t force myself to like what you don’t like […] but I have no reason, I know nothing about it “, he quipped in a letter to Reynaldo Hahn in August 1912.

"Self-portrait with Reynaldo Hahn" by Marcel Proust
Self-portrait with Reynaldo Hahn, Marcel Proust

© Getty
-Universal History Archive

Music in “Search”.

Proust does his job Research from politics to society, including, of course, music, it is a true mirror of those who surround it. More than fifty classical and romantic composers are mentioned in it, especially his favorites Wagner, Beethoven, Schumann and Debussy, as well as Bach, Fauré, Franck, Saint-Saens, Liszt, Strauss, Berlioz, Bizet, Mascanni, Mendelssohn, Handel, Puccini. and Meyerbeer.

Also transcribed are the Parisian music salons of the time, the main social laboratories that allowed for both musical discovery and communication among the privileged. Proust, a keen observer, does not hesitate to point out in his work Research the snobbish and fickle tastes of this hall audience, defined more by money and appearance than by actual musical knowledge:

He asked instead Holidays About Debussy, who made people scream: “Ah! This is awesome! from the first record. But Morel realized that he only knew the first bars, and as a child he began the Meyerbeer march, with no intention of hiding any of his secrets. Unfortunately, since he dropped a few passages and didn’t make any statements, everyone thought he was still Debussy, and people kept shouting, “Great! »can we read in volume four? Sodom and Gomorrah.

1 hour 58

Listening to superior music

Marcel Proust talks not only about the musical life of his time, but also about the musicality of the life that surrounded him. Thus we find in the third volume Guermantes side evidence of Proust’s musical ear, comparing the gust of wind to his fireplace door. The famous bow strikes that begin the Symphony in C minor » [de Beethoven, ndlr]. We hear too” Towards the end of the Tannhäuser Overture, a collection of lusty and moaning phrases superimposed on the Pilgrim’s Chorus when the landing door slowly closes.

Even the abstract idea of ​​human character is open to musical comparison. The obstinate character of Françoise (Aunt Leonie’s cook in Cambra), who resumes her sentence as soon as her sentence is interrupted, evokes the narrator. The indomitable tenacity of Bach’s fugue » (Sodom and Gomorrah).

A view to the musical ear is added. Some commentators attribute synesthetic abilities to Proust: the stimulation of one of his senses likely involuntarily awakens another (for example, the appearance of colors and the sensation of textures when listening to sound). Several examples support this hypothesis. The most striking comes when the narrator mentions and compares the works of composer Vinteuil. Prisoner : ” Of course, the glowing basket was different from the white sonata », as well as a long list of city names On Swann’s side:

The name of Parma […] To me it looks compact, smooth, purple and soft, […] Bayeux is very high with noble reddish lace […] ; the sweet Lamballe, its white, eggshell varying from yellow to pearl gray; Coutances, a Norman Cathedral, crowned by a buttery tower with a finial, fat and yellowed diphthong »

Vinteuil, the most realistic of fantastic composers

Along with the composers quoted in the work Research, one composer in particular stands out: the mysterious Vinteuil. But this composer is not like others because he is fictional. It actually exists Research three imaginary artists: painter Elstir, writer Bergotte and composer Vinteuil.

Little is known about Vinteuil’s life and work, except that he is the author of two musical works: a. Sonata for piano and violin and one basket. If the latter only appears for the first time Prisonerthe Sonata can be heard from the first volume Researcharising from it a short sentence It is of great importance in Proust’s work. And who is Vinteuil? Is it a representation of one or more real composers?

Although the author leaves a number of signs in his writings and correspondence, this question does not find a clear answer: Vinteuil symbolizes the great Frankish musician “, he wrote to Madame de Madrazo in 1916. Vinteuil, apart from being the inspiration for the character, is one of the clearest demonstrations of a thesis developed by Proust in an earlier text. Research was published posthumously with the title Sainte Beuve v. The book especially criticizes the explanation of the essence of artistic creativity in relation to the biography of its creator, even its reduction:

“Vinteuil is the main illustration of this question. He is quickly portrayed as a bit bourgeois, conservative, boring, irritable, and very strict about good manners. And at the same time, he is the undoubted creator of a masterpiece. People who know him and his work refuse to be contacted. But Proust shows us that it is possible to be someone who looks a little monotonous but is incredibly brave. Vinteuil is one of the best demonstrations of this thesis, which is very close to the heart Proust “, explains Jérôme Bastianelli, music critic, French essayist and author of the novel. The real life of Vinteuil.

28 min

Vinteuil musical madeleine

In seven volumes research, a kind of musical ritornello returns regularly, rare and subtle, but of surprising force, and of great importance in the essence of the work. nicknamed ” short sentence By Vinteuil, these few notes Sonata for piano and violin The composer’s imagination first evokes the involuntary memory of Swann, the protagonist, and then Marcel, the narrator. So what is the musical inspiration for this little phrase?

The question remains unanswered, but the author reveals some real inspiration in a letter to Jacques de Lacretelle with the following disclaimer: In the small measure that reality serves me, too small a measure to tell the truth “. Especially mentioned are the first Sonata for piano and violin Saint-Saens and the magic of good friday of Parsifal Wagner’s Sonata for violin and piano Frank’s tremolo of the prelude Lohengrin again, also anything by Schubert and “A delightful piano composition” By Gabriel Faure.

Although it is tempting to try to identify the origin of ” small sentence », this motive has neither interest nor power. Rather than describing the beauty of the sentence, it is influence the beauty that Proust describes to us in an attempt to reconcile the objective existence of a musical work with the subjective experience of the listener.

The sudden arrival of the little expression never ceases to surprise Swann and instantly brings him back to memories of his love affair with Odette. ” This little phrase is the idea that our greatest emotions can be mixed up in multiple dimensions. We can sum up an entire life with two or three minutes of music “, explains Jérôme Bastianelli.

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More than an art or a passion for music lovers, Proust made music a phenomenon of consciousness capable of absorbing the most complex feelings and deep memories: “ a language endowed with the mysterious power of resurrection In 1922, Proust entrusted Jacques Benoist-Mech.

Thus, through these few notes, Proust reveals all the power of music, able to reveal involuntary memory, through which it is possible to relive the past through emotion rather than reconstruct it through memory. A process in which the most inexplicable depths of the soul are awakened as elegantly as taking a bite of the famous madeleine. It is in lost time that music exists and thrives, immortalized by memory and rediscovered by listening to a few notes.

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