Sunday 24 June 2012

More detective work leads to Fontaine de Vaucluse...

Yet again, the blogging world brings like minds together. My trail of curiosity and detection that went from finding Elizabeth David’s house in Ménerbes to the tragic suicide of artist Nicolas de Staël in Antibes (The concert and the final painting) piqued the interest of another Francophile, Evelyn Jackson at Melanged Magic.

What was it about the music in last concert de Staël listened to in Paris that had such a galvanising, creative and ultimately tragic effect on him? Intrigued, Evelyn listened to a recording of Schoenberg's Serenade Opus 24, and read in the accompanying commentary that the central portion of the work is a sonnet by Petrarch.

‘Which sonnet was it?’ writes Evelyn. ‘Could there be a clue to why this particular piece of music 'sang' to de Staël? I spent most of the morning doing the Google thing and found that the sonnet of Schoenberg's 'Serenade' is Sonnet 217, part of Petrarch's Cantoniziere to Laura, his life-long love and Muse. It took a bit of digging, but here is the sonnet in English:

Sonnetto 217

Once I hoped, lamenting so justly
making such fervent verses heard,
that pity's warmth might be felt
in that hard heart that freezes in mid-summer:

and that the cruel cloud, that chills
and veils it, might disperse with the breeze
of my ardent voice, or others might hate her
for hiding those eyes that destroy me.

Yet I seek no pity for myself, nor hatred
for her: I do not wish it, nor is it possible
(such are my stars, and my cruel fate):

but I sing her heavenly beauty, so
that, when I'm free of this flesh, the world
will know the sweetness of my death 

‘It's one of Petrarch's later sonnets that speaks more of unrequited love and the reality that hope is gone. Laura barely knows he exists and will never love him. I think the last stanza is very telling. The poet almost looks forward to the “sweetness of my death”. Is this what compelled de Staël to take his own life? Was he following Petrarch's advice? Certainly it was well-known that de Staël suffered from bouts of despair and depression, but could the music with its core of unrequited love and death have tipped him over the edge? We'll never know for sure, of course. All this is pure speculation driven by that endless curiosity to know more of the story. But isn't it intriguing how poetry, music and great paintings melange into a story of love, life and death?’

I don’t think I can add anything to Evelyn’s words, except to say thank you very much for the determined research and pushing the story on.

In yet another illustration of how creativity always seems interconnected, the medieval Italian poet Petrarch is forever associated with Fontaine de Vaucluse – a beautiful and (out of season) a rather eerie spot that ends in a wall of rock and cold green water. It happens to be one of my favourite places in Provence and I blogged about it here, giving some of the background to the story of Petrarch’s infatuation with Laura.


Bunched Undies said...

There's a good novel - or two - in this story. It's right up your line Deborah!

renilde said...

How very intriguing, looking at de Stâel's unfinished painting i was thinking about the dramatic effect of red and black used alongside eachother, blood, passion and the great darkness, death. But there is also that light in it and the big golden bass.I do not get the feeling or impression it is painted feverishly, i see a work so far painted with love and care (wish i could see it in the real).
And now after reading all yours and Evelyn's 'detective work' i see a man(piano) and a bass(woman) and that big space between them , but ofcourse i'm very influenced here.

Thanks for these wonderful posts, x

Pet said...

I guess Petrach, in its simple beauty, said it all. If in similar circumstances who could help but admiring him and, at least,considering his advice.
Very interesting piece of research. I hope never to be in need of it :-)
The poem is beautiful, like an old perennial thing, isn't it?

Evelyn said...

Fontaine de Vaucluse is one of those places that inspires me to wonder 'what was this place like 400, 500 years ago?' Take away all the touristy trinket shops and my guess is that it was a bit mysterious nestled up against the stone cliffs with the Sorgue surging up out of the ground. I bought a little booklet in the church that says there is evidence of a Roman colony in the valley dating from the 1st century!

La Brocanteuse said...

Lovely post Deborah, thank so very much for taking me along, making me pause here. Thank you for your very welcome visit to my blog and much appreciated inspiring comment.
Best to you

Lisa Erin said...

Interesting. I love the photos. The water is beautiful.

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