PROUST and MUSIC

Program Notes by James Connelly 

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849):

Proust’s affinity for Chopin was a maternal inheritance. His mother, Jeanne, was an accomplished pianist (she had him take lessons in his youth). So too were Jeanne’s mother, Adèle Weil, and her maternal grandmother, Rose Berncastel. Rose’s sister Amélie (Proust’s great aunt) was a student of Chopin’s. After marrying financier Alfred Crémieux, Amélie established her own musical salon, where she welcomed guests such as Chopin, Rossini, Meyerbeer, Victor Hugo, and George Sand. Jeanne sometimes attended. So it is not surprising that Chopin’s name appears in La Recherche. Some sense of Chopin’s pervasive influence on Belle Époque music comes from one of Proust’s central characters. The Baron de Charlus remarks to his young protégé, the violinist Morel:“I never heard Chopin play,” said the Baron, “and yet I might have done so. I took lessons from Stamati [Camille-Marie Stamati, 1811-1870], but he forbade me to go and hear the Master of the Nocturnes at my aunt Chimay’s.” “That was damned silly of him,” exclaimed Morel. “On the contrary,” M. de Charlus retorted warmly, in a shrill voice. “It was a proof of his intelligence. He had realised that I was a ‘natural’ and that I would succumb to Chopin’s influence.” (IV:554-55.)

Chopin’s great love, the novelist George Sand, also infuses La Recherche: her tale of a country orphan, François le champi, is central to Proust’s Narrator’s remembrance of “the night that was perhaps the sweetest and the saddest of my life”— the evening when his mother’s goodnight kiss was unexpectedly denied him—and the chance discovery, decades later in the Guermantes library, of his childhood edition of the Sand novel is a fortuitous key to “involuntary memory” and recovery of the past (I: 52-57; VI:281-88, 526). “Chopin” is the title of one of the few poems Proust published in his lifetime. “Chopin” is one of eight poems in “Portraits de peintres et de musiciens,” part of Proust’s earliest book Les Plaisirs et les jours (1896). At her Paris salon in1895, Madeleine Lemaire recited the “Portraits” poems to accompanying piano music composed by Proust’s friend, the composer Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947). The premiere’s pianist was Édouard Risler (1873-1929), whom Proust memorialized in La Recherche (IV:400). An avid exponent of Chopin’s music, Risler toured the Continent performing his works. Proust dedicated “Chopin” to Risler, honoring both the composer and his great champion.

1 À la recherche du temps perdu citations (thus: I:1) refer its English translation, In Search of Lost Time, trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff (Modern Library, 2003): Volume I, Swann’s Way; II, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower; III, The Guermantes Way; IV, Sodom and Gomorrah; V, The Captive and The Fugitive; VI, Time Regained. Citations to Proust’s letters (Corr. 1:1) refer to volume and page of Correspondance de Marcel Proust, ed. Philip Kolb (Plon, 1970-93), 21 vols. Other citations (CS-B and JS) refer to Contre Sainte-Beuve précédé de Pastiches et mélanges, éd. P. Clarac (Gallimard, 1971) and Jean Santeuil précédé de Les Plaisirs et les jours, éd. P. Clarac, Y. Sandre ( Gallimard, 1971).

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Lucien Capet and his Quatuor Capet played Beethoven’s late quartets for Proust in his apartment at 102, boulevard Haussmann. Capet felt Proust had a deep understanding of Beethoven. Proust also shared his sense of physical suffering and his fear that mortality would cut short his vocation. Deafness and illness inspired Beethoven’s Heiligenstädter Testament : the composer was “finally compelled to face the prospect of an incurable malady.” He despaired: “Ah, it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence.” The severely asthmatic Proust feared that death would abort his own life’s work, La Recherche. His assistant Céleste Albaret recalled his anguish: “Céleste, je n’en finis pas, et la mort me poursuit. Elle me talonne” (“Céleste, I have not finished, and death pursues me. It stalks me.”). Empathy for Beethoven inspires the Baron de Charlus’s epithet for the composer, “le glorieux Sourd,” (“the glorious Deaf One”) (IV, 555). In March 1913, Proust told his confidante Mme Straus that music from his théâtrophone (linked to Paris concert halls) and his pianola consoled him: “I can be visited in my bed by the birds and the brook from the Pastoral Symphony, which poor Beethoven enjoyed no more directly than I can, since he was completely deaf. He consoled himself by trying to reproduce the song of the birds he could no longer hear. Allowing for the distance between his genius and my want of talent, I also compose pastoral symphonies in my own way by depicting what I can no longer see!” (Corr. 12:110.) In fact, both Proust and Franz Schubert sought solace from Beethoven in their final struggles to complete their work — Proust with the later titles of his novel and Schubert with the proofs of Winterreise. Months before he died, Proust wrote: “I turn to Beethoven’s 15th String Quartet [Opus 132] in the hope—very uncertain—of convalescing” (Corr. 21:81). The week he died, Schubert had Beethoven’s Quartet No. 14 played for him. Proust knew that both he and Beethoven had created works of genius that were at first baffling to the public, accessible only to the rare minds capable of understanding them (“les rares esprits capables de le comprendre”). Beethoven wrote for “humanity yet to come” (“kunftige Menschheit”). Two centuries on, the Late Quartets retain a puzzling, aetherial quality. Contemplating Vinteuil’s mysterious creativity and noting the Late Quartets struggle for acceptance, Proust’s Narrator sees that a revolutionary work of art must “create its own posterity” (“Il faut que l’œuvre […] crée elle-même sa postérité”) (II, 142-43).

Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Proust came late to Debussy. His ardor burned brightly at the start. The fire later subsided, but it never went out. Proust always kept a warm admiration for the composer. This is not surprising in someone whose catholic taste in music developed early and evolved throughout his life. In an 1886 letter to his maternal grandmother, the fourteen-year-old Proust lamented being away from home, but assured her that “the divine songs of Massenet and Gounod relieve my boredom” (Corr. 1:97)—two composers for whom he later expressed no special regard. That same year, Proust listed his favorite composers in a friend’s commonplace book as Mozart and Gounod; but in 1893, Proust, now twenty, replied to a questionnaire, listing his favorite composers as Beethoven, Wagner, and Schumann. But all this was before his deepening immersion in the musical world of le monde during the Nineties: he attended the musically venturesome Salon Polignac, where he met and forged his lifelong friendship with composer Reynaldo Hahn. Proust’s musical knowledge, already sound, expanded and deepened; and his taste became even more refined and discriminating.
It is hard to say why it took Proust until 1911 to take active note of Debussy. After all, Debussy’s Quatuor pour cordes had premiered in 1893, his Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune in 1894, and his Nocturnes in 1898. Proust knew and admired Gabriel Fauré, and one may speculate whether Proust was initially put off by the disdain that “les jeunes musiciens” of the day, including Debussy, expressed for Fauré’s setting of Paul Verlaine’s La Bonne Chanson (Corr. I:340). Proust was also, by this time, a far more ardent devotee of Wagner, who, though he surely influenced Debussy, left the young French composer with reservations (Debussy once likened Wagner to the evil magician Klingsor in Parsifal). Still, an 1894 letter shows Proust’s budding interest in Debussy, even though he repeats hearsay opinion: Debussy “they say is a great genius far superior to Fauré” (Corr. I:95).
Proust was avid for contemporary music. But even though Debussy’s and Maeterlinck’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande had premiered in Paris in 1902, Proust seems not to have heard Pelléas performed until February 1911, when he listened to a théâtrophone broadcast of it from the Opéra-Comique. His enthusiasm soon boiled over in a letter to Hahn in early March: “I constantly ask for Pelléas on the théâtrophone.” He even identifies himself as “Markel,” a portmanteau name coined from Marcel and Arkel, Pelléas’s father (Corr. 10:256). Proust’s letter suggests that his “Pastiche de Pelléas et Mélisande,” later published in Pastiches et mélanges, dates from this first blush of “immense admiration pour le Pelléas et Mélisande de
Debussy” (CS-B 206-07). Yet, as Proust biographer Jean-Yves Tadié notes, writing this pastiche was “comme pour se délivrer de l’œuvre qui l’obsède” (“like a deliverance from a work that obsessed him”). Jean-Yves Tadié, Marcel Proust, Biographie (Paris: Gallimard,1996), p. 660. By May, Proust’s ardor was subsiding, for he found Debussy’s Martyre de saint Sébastien disappointing. The fervor may have abated, but in May 1913, Proust still attended a Ballets Russes performance of one of Debussy’s works: it may have been Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (Corr. 12:12) or perhaps Jeux earlier that May (Tadié, Proust, p. 694 n. 6). Whichever it was, Proust clearly remained interested in Debussy’s work. Years later,though, Proust’s 1919 letter to Jean Cocteau seems (by implication) to accept, perhaps even agree with, Cocteau’s swipes at both Wagner and Debussy in his Le Coq et l’Arlequin (then just published and later the manifesto of Les Six as they broke new ground for French music). Yet, it seems unlikely that his (albeit abated) ardor for Debussy had diminished that much (Corr. 18:267). More likely, Proust was flattering and manipulating the younger Cocteau. Debussy remained a life-long source of pleasure to Proust. As late as June 1920. two years after Debussy’s death, Proust enjoyed hearing his work at the home of Jacques Porel.
Proust also saw fit to memorialize Debussy in the later volumes of La Recherche, mentioning him a half-dozen or more times in Sodom and Gomorrah, published in his last year (IV:285-93, 384, 481, 578) and in Th Captive, published a year later (V: 147-49).

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

The twenty year old Proust listed Wagner, Beethoven, and Schumann as favorite composers (CS-B 337). Later, he debated about Wagner with a skeptical Reynaldo Hahn. Proust‘s 1895 Mélomanie de Bouvard et Pécuchet (a Flaubertian pastiche) depicted their jousts: Bouvard is “résolument wagnérien,” while Pécuchet dismisses “le braillard de Berlin” (“the bawler from Berlin”) (JS 62-65; Corr. 1:248). Wagner runs through Proust’s correspondence and his novel and other writings. Wagner pervaded Proust’s creative and aesthetic life in the 1890s when his musical palette was developing. He saw Parsifal in 1894. Its Act II Flower Maidens scene perhaps inspired the title of In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. In The Guermantes Way, the Narrator speaks of “witnessing a change of surroundings comparable to that which introduces Parsifal suddenly into the midst of the flower-maidens” (III:579). In 1895, Proust attended Tannhäuser, absent from the Paris stage since the 1861 Jockey Club riot. Proust’s letters speak of Wagner as a source of Vinteuil’s sonata (Corr. 14:234; 17:193). An extended discussion of Wagner’s music is in The Captive. “Music,” the Narrator declares, “helped me to descend into myself, to discover new things: the variety that I had sought in vain in life, in travel, but a longing for which was none the less renewed in me by this sonorous tide whose sunlit waves now came to expire at my feet. […] As the spectrum makes visible to us the composition of light, so the harmony of a Wagner […] enable[s] us to know that essential quality of another person’s sensations” (V:206). This may express the basis of Proust’s affinity for Wagner: the novel, like music, distills the Narrator’s experience and sensations and permits a reader to discern that essence. By extension, the reader learns “to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have perceived in himself” (VI:322).

Tristan und Isolde informs the novel. Vinteuil’s sonata is depicted as the offspring of Tristan: “As I played the passage, and although Vinteuil had been trying to express in it a fancy which would have been wholly foreign to Wagner, I could not help murmuring ‘Tristan,’ with the smile of an old family friend discovering a trace of the grandfather in an intonation, a gesture of the grandson who has never set eyes on him. And as the friend then examines a photograph which enables him to specify the likeness, so, on top of Vinteuil’s sonata, I set up on the music rest the score of
Tristan” (V:205). The novel’s overture, “Combray” in Swann’s Way, introduces its major themes or leitmotifs: Tristan inhabits the Narrator’s wakeful nights. In the opera, night is the realm of longing and revelation. So too in “Combray” and throughout the novel. Tristan sings of “das Wunderreich der Nacht” (“the wondrous realm of night”) (Act II, sc. 3). Before his death in Isolde’s arms, Tristan laments to Kurwenal that he has been awakened, summoned, from a death-like sleep by the shepherd’s piping tune (“die alte Weise;— / Was weckt sie mich?”) and forced to return from the divine, eternal oblivion (“göttlich, ew’ges / Ur-Vergessen!”) that enshrouded him “im weiten Reich / der Weltennacht” (“the distant realm of the night of the world”) (Act III, sc. 1). There is a striking echo in Proust’s insomniac Narrator: “memory […] would come like a rope let down from heaven to draw me up out of the abyss of not-being, from which I could never have escaped by myself” (I:4-5).

Night, sleep, dreams, waking reverie, the liminal stage in between—all these states feature in Wagner’s and Proust’s imaginations. Just as Combray and its inhabitants emerged from the Narrator’s subconscious cued by tea and madeleine, so Wagner’s world of the Rhine awoke from the realm of dream or twilight. The Prelude to Das Rheingold and its leitmotifs came to him in sleep, Wagner tells us:

I fell into a kind of sleepwalker state, in which I suddenly felt as though I were sinking in swiftly flowing water. […] I awoke in sudden terror from my half- sleep […] I at once realized that the orchestral overture to Das Rheingold, which must have long lain latent within me without being able to find definite form, had at last been revealed to me.

Richard Wagner, Mein Leben (F. Bruckmann: A-G, München,1911), Zweiter Band, 591-92. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower describes a similar realization: “The whole promontory of the inaccessible world emerges from the twilight of dream and enters our life […] like the sleeper awakened […]”) (II:607-08). Das Rheingold builds upon a fluctuating E flat chord of the Rhine’s flow through a mythic world—much as a world arises from imagination, memory, and a liminal state between sleep and waking in the Narrator’s Combray bedroom: “This impression would persist for some moments after I awoke; it did not offend my reason, but lay like scales upon my eyes […]” ( I:1). Schopenhauer’s influence ran deep in both men.

Franz Liszt’s piano transcription of Wagner’s “Liebestod” illustrates the importance of musical transcription in Proust’s world before the ascendency of sound recordings. Liszt’s realization suggests the Belle Époque salon. Charles Rosen noted that nineteenth century transcriptions “made a great deal of music available to many who had little chance of contact with it, and above all they indicated an extraordinary variety of ways that music could be interpreted, and the art of imagining a score with different possibilities of sound.” Rosen, “The Super Power of Franz Liszt,” New York Review of Books, 23 February 2012, p. 19. Proust often listened to transcriptions of larger works in salons and in the concert hall—and even at home on his Aeolian pianola. Proust’s Narrator makes an observation similar to Rosen’s: “[S]ometimes our attention throws a different light upon things which we have known for a long time and we remark in them what we have never seen before” (V:205).

César Franck (1822-90)

On April 19, 1913, Proust abruptly came to a crossroads of music and letters. Western literature, especially the novel, would never be the same. Earlier that month, Proust had begun editing a printer’s proof his publisher Grasset had sent him. It was the first volume of what ultimately would become À la recherche du temps perdu. He ventured out of his cork-lined bedroom that Saturday evening to hear Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A major, performed by violinist Georges Enesco and pianist Paul Goldschmidt in the Salle Villiers. The sonata proved a catalyst for vast changes not only in the work in proof, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way), but in the structure and narrative line of La Recherche as a whole. “Grosse émotion ce soir,” he wrote to Antoine Bibesco when he got home: “More dead than alive, I nonetheless went to a recital hall in the rue du Rocher to hear the Franck Sonata which I love so much, not to hear Enesco whom I had never heard” (Corr. 12:147). Though the program had included works by Schumann, Brahms, and Beethoven, composers he admired, Proust’s letter speaks only of Franck. Proust describes the A major Sonata through an avian-mating metaphor: “I found it admirable; the doleful twittering of his violin, the moaning calls, responded to the piano, as from a tree or from mysterious foliage” (Corr. 12:147). These words would later echo in Charles Swann’s intense emotional reaction to Vinteuil’s sonata in Swann’s Way: “How beautiful the dialogue which Swann now heard between piano and violin, at the beginning of the last passage! […] At first the piano complained alone, like a bird deserted by its mate; the violin heard and answered it, as from a neighbouring tree” (I:499-500).

But the effect of hearing the Franck Sonata ran much deeper. Proust recast the proofs of Du côté de chez Swann, which was to appear later that year (Corr. 12:149 n. 4). Philip Kolb, editor of Proust’s correspondence, notes that the Franck Sonata prompted even deeper changes to Proust’s novel: “Here, it seems, is the moment when Proust conceived one of the most inspired ideas in his entire work.” He took the character “Berget,” the composer of the sonata that was to be the “national anthem” of Swann and Odette’s love, and combined him with another character, “Vington”, a naturalist with a troublesome daughter. The result was the composer “Vindeuil,” later Vinteuil, a composite character of a rank equal (and perhaps superior in Proust’s aesthetic hierarchy) to the writer Bergotte and even the painter Elstir. “This change,” Kolb noted, “allows Proust to consolidate the architecture of the whole work by unifying diverse themes, those of music, of artistic creation, of sadism. From this moment, Proust will give music an increased, indeed a central, importance in his work, something that explains the exceptional number of concerts he attended throughout the year 1913” (Corr. 12:xiv-xv). Even so, one cannot equate the fictional Vinteuil sonata with Franck’s chamber piece, for, five years later (April 1918), Proust’s inscription of a copy of of Du côté de chez Swann to Jacques de Lacretelle states that the fictional sonata is a composite of several models (17:193-94). Still,in a 1916 letter, Proust declares that “Vinteuil symbolise le grand musicien genre Franck” (“Vinteuil symbolizes the great musician of Franck’s type”) (Corr. 15:57). One biographer said that “Proust took a sly pleasure in multiplying” the sources of Vinteuil’s sonata and septet. George Painter, Marcel Proust, A Biography (Random House: 1989), vol. II, p. 245.

Franck was one of the most influential of French composers in his day, noted for his experiments in chromatic harmony and cyclical form. Franck’s thematically cyclical A major Sonata had had its first Paris performance in 1887. The list of composers who admired Franck is testimony to his worth—D’Indy, Lekeu, Chabrier, Duparc, and Chausson among them. Even beyond the effects of April 1913’s concert, evidence of the depth of Franck’s influence on Proust’s taste is found in Proust’s letters to a neighbor, recently published. Proust would study musical scores borrowed from friends, but the recently published letters show that he also owned and studied scores of Franck’s and Beethoven’s compositions. Marcel Proust, Lettres à sa voisine, ed. Estelle Gaudry and Jean-Yves Tadié (Paris: Gallimard, 2013), pp. 70; Letters to His Neighbor, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: New Directions, 2017), pp. 65.

Proust refers to Franck several times in La Recherche (IV:119, 479, 480; V:860) and in his other writing (JS 52, 63, 659, 724; CS-B 608). Music (sometimes Franck’s) can be the measure of characters’ taste or intelligence in Proust’s novel. In Sodom and Gomorrah, the Narrator illustrates what a nullity a marquise is when she pronounces Beethoven a “bore” and categorically dismisses Wagner, Franck, and Debussy (IV: 118-19). The Narrator later mentions Franck when observing the purity of the Baron de Charlus’s pianistic style (IV:479). This latter episode also points up the philistinism of the Verdurin clan: Mme de Cambremer spurns the Narrator’s request that Charles Morel, the Baron de Charlus’s violinist protégé, play something by Franck. She requests instead Fêtes by Debussy; but she and the other attendees are deceived into thinking they are listening to Debussy by Morel who, “as a prank,” plays a march by the arch-traditionalist Meyerbeer (IV:480-81). Finally in The Captive, in the midst of a political conversation, M. de Norpois is sudden absorbed in angelic silence, which seems capable of blossoming into “an innocent and melodious song by Mendelssohn or César Franck” (V:860). Franck is an emblem of refined sensibility.

Did Franck have a “program” in mind in writing the A major Sonata, even one not as elaborate as, say, Berlioz’s in Symphonie fantastique? It seems doubtful; but some listeners (e.g., Proust’s letter to Bibesco) hear birdcall. Others fancy the peal of wedding bells at the end (not inconsistent, admittedly, with Franck’s 1886 wedding dedication to violinist Eugène Ysaÿe, even though Franck began the piece long before he knew of the nuptials). While Proust did enjoy “program music,” pieces like Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, he put a higher value on what some call “absolute” music (i.e., “pure” music independent of or not contingent upon words, story, or situation). So it is worth remarking that Proust used an avian metaphor to describe Franck’s piano and violin to Bibesco. For Proust, music at its best evokes emotion and thereby touches the mind directly. For Proust, music’s “highest function […] operates outside the particular and concrete [and is] as vague and profound as our emotion” (Corr. I:389). Vinteuil’s Septet makes that clear: “And yet no programme, so subject matter, supplied any intellectual basis for judgment. One simply sensed that it was a question of the transposition of profundity into terms of sound” (V:343;). The performer, too, is at his finest when “his playing has become so transparent, so imbued with what he is interpreting, that one no longer sees the performer himself—he is simply a window opening upon a great work of art” (III:54). Jacques Thibaud, the great violinist whom Proust so much admired (V:63, 383), offered his insight on the A major Sonata: “The whole beginning ought to be an extremely calm and mystical thing. […] From its elevation of thought—develop a musical line. Franck, who is passionate, is also a lover of religion; he is a dreamer, a mystic. […] Do not turn this movement into a story; that is a grave mistake and often a widespread one.” Le Monde musical, 31 juillet 1934, p. 225. Thibaud seems close to what charmed Proust in the Franck Sonata.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924)

Gabriel Fauré’s career spanned major developments in French music—not to mention political revolutions, wars, the rise and fall of the Second Empire, and artistic and technological upheaval. The final score of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique was published the year Fauré was born; the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk exploded like a supernova in the arts; and Darius Milhaud and Francis Poulenc visited Arnold Schönberg in Mödling, the shrine of twelve-tone music, not long before Fauré died.

While Fauré wrote large-scale works, chamber music and mélodie lie at the heart of his oeuvre. Henri Duparc’s affectionately called Fauré “mon délicieux”; and by all accounts of his life and music, the soubriquet was heartfelt. Early signs of musical gifts led to his schooling as an organist by his lifelong friend Camille Saint-Saëns. Fauré himself later taught Ravel, Koechlin, Enesco, the Boulanger sisters, and others. Like Proust’s work, Fauré’s music bridges the last of Romanticism and the beginnings of Modernism. His inventiveness has informed French music for generations. A combination of emotional restraint, suggestiveness, clarity, and spareness marks Fauré’s compositions. It has been said that Fauré’s “music leads us to the heart of whatever distinguishes French music from that of the rest of the world.” Johnson, A French Song Companion , p. 169. The composer’s music resonated with Proust, who knew and corresponded with him. Of the twenty-one volumes of Proust’s surviving correspondence, only four lack some mention of Fauré. One letter to Reynaldo Hahn details the 1 July 1907 dîner- soirée that Proust both planned and hosted for select friends at the Ritz Hôtel (Corr. 7:211-14). Fauré was to play after dinner, but sudden illness intervened. The program Proust chose is a snapshot of his taste: ten pieces by seven composers—Fauré, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, Chabrier, Couperin. Fauré’s Sonate pour piano et violon, Opus 13, opened the program. A Fauré Nocturne was played just before Wagner’s La Mort d’Yseult, which was then followed by the final piece, Fauré’s Berceuse pour violon et piano, Opus 16 (1880). By itself, Fauré’s prominence in the program tells what Proust thought of him.

Proust sometimes hired chamber groups for nighttime concerts in his apartment. The performances were private, for an audience of one. Proust chose the music himself. Gaston Poulet, founder of Quatuor Poulet, recalled his choices: Mozart, Beethoven, Ravel, Schumann, Fauré, and Franck. Proust paid the musicians generously in rare and valuable gold-franc notes. One wartime night around 11 p.m. in April 1916, Proust roused Poulet from his bed to request that he assemble his colleagues to play for him. Proust transported the four musicians by taxicab to his boulevard Haussmann flat well after midnight (Carter, Marcel Proust, pp. 618-20). In an April 1916 letter, Proust notes his pleasure at hearing Poulet’s chamber group play Franck, Fauré, and Beethoven “devant moi tout seul” (“before me alone”) (Corr. 15:28). Poulet gauged the author’s musical taste firsthand and offered a telling insight: “Fauré was the musician closest to his sensibility” (Tadié, Marcel Proust, p. 754).

Fauré, of course, is mentioned several times in La Recherche († III, 343-44, 773, 1084; IV, 123; § IV, 479-80; V, 731). The most striking instance occurs when Charlus, “un pianiste délicieux,” accompanies the violinist Morel, “in the purest style” in a sonata by Fauré. Possibly, Proust had Opus 13 in mind (the piece played at the Ritz soirée), for the Narrator describes the sonata as “inquiet, tourmenté, schumannesque” (“worried, turbulent, Schumannesque”) (IV:479-80). Proust’s letters twice mention Fauré pieces as among the ingredients in imagining Vinteuil’s “petite phrase”: a 1915, letter mentions as a source “the more spacious passages from Fauré’s Ballade” and, in a 1918 letter, the phrase “becomes a ravishing piece by Fauré” (Corr. 14:236, 17:194). Poulet’s intuition about Proust and Fauré seems well founded.

 

Notes © James Connelly, 2017