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October 3, 2017 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Virtuoso sisters claim to have solved Proust’s musical puzzle [The Guardian] “It was just a “little phrase” from a sonata for piano and violin in F sharp, but it triggered a tumult of emotion for Swann, and prompted a musical puzzle that has intrigued Proust’s fans since the publication of his epic work in 1913. It is often argued the French composer Camille Saint-Saëns must be the real musician behind the mystery piece that haunts the pages of the revered seven-volume novel, but since Proust invented a composer called Vinteuil in the first book, a succession of favourite candidates have been put forward down the years, including César Franck, Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, Richard Wagner and even the comparatively obscure Belgian Guillaume Lekeu. Now two leading concert musicians and sisters, the violinist Maria and the pianist Nathalia Milstein, have a compelling new theory.”
posted by Fizz (14 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
What makes their theory so compelling? Pretty much everyone in the novel is a composite character or an invention of Proust, so why should anyone hope to find an exact analogue to these specific pieces of music? To take an example from the article, Elstir is based on Monet to some extent, but Elstir's art plays with striking optical illusions more than Monet's did, so it isn't a one-to-one match. It's cool that the Milsteins have rescued an obscure piece of music from oblivion, but I'm not sure it makes sense to attach it to In Search of Lost Time without a strong textual argument from Proust's letters or something.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:31 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]

They're basically trying to sell their recording, but still, interesting. Of course it's idiotic to think there's a single "real" sonata and "real" Vinteuil—it's a novel, not a History of Western Music—but it's fun to have another name tossed into the mix.
posted by languagehat at 12:33 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

Yes, this puzzles me. It's not a roman a clef. Bergotte isn't one writer, either.
posted by praemunire at 12:35 PM on October 3

Odd how the article doesn't entertain the possibility that there was actually no real piece of music at all corresponding to what Swann describes in the novel, and that the attempt to discover it is correspondingly bootless.

One can only imagine what Proust himself would have thought of this form of literary interest (though one's faded memory of the bits of Against Sainte-Beuve one once read suggests it wouldn't be anything good).
posted by kenko at 12:36 PM on October 3

Glad the early comments are of one mind here.
posted by kenko at 12:36 PM on October 3

I've discovered a marvelous smokable herb that Tolkien was referring to when he wrote about pipe weed and you can try it too.
posted by idiopath at 12:45 PM on October 3 [19 favorites]

Clearly novelists can only imagine stories, and possibly characters, and perhaps settings. But certainly not the pieces of art portrayed within their fiction.
posted by ardgedee at 12:52 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

People seem unusually riled up by a Guardian puff piece. The CD is basically pieces inspired by the Vinteuil Sonata.

On the subject of Art in Proust, I highly recommend, well, Paintings in Proust, which is about all the real paintings that appear in Proust. Beautiful to just browse through on its own.
posted by vacapinta at 12:57 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]

They claim the musical theme that plays such a crucial role in one of the great literary works of the 20th century is more likely to come from Gabriel Pierné’s Sonata for violin and piano in D minor, Opus 36, a much less famous work.

It's the saddest of all keys, so that checks out.
posted by thelonius at 1:05 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]

I thought Bergotte was more Anatole France. Also the little phrase was inspired by an Andy Weatherall mixtape that Swann picked up at the Jockey Club.

(I am totally game for getting their CD.)
posted by Mocata at 1:07 PM on October 3

While the Milsteins' claim is arguable to say the least, I'm grateful for it (and for this post) as the Pierné sonata is indeed a lovely piece, and one I might not have heard otherwise. The Guardian piece links to its first movement only: I; but there are two more: II & III. There's also a version for piano & flute.
posted by misteraitch at 1:38 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]

The Guardian could have linked to the "little phrase" in the Pierne piece, but of course, (and Proust knew this full well), the whole thing works better if there is no real little phrase, just you imagining it.
posted by acrasis at 4:15 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

But have they solved the puzzle of how to summarize Proust?
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:57 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]

Thank you, Joey Michaels. Thought that should have snuck in there earlier. You pulled through.
posted by knownassociate at 5:30 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]

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