Assembled here are three sets of short pieces for solo piano: by the French composer Gabriel Fauré, the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, and the Czech composer Leos Janacek. All of these compositions date from the years 1909 to 1912, exactly contemporaneous with the reading assignment, an excerpt from Proust’s great epic novel In Search of Lost Time. The excerpt from Proust details an encounter by the protagonist (Charles Swann) with a fictional piece of music, the Violin Sonata by Venteuil (a fictional composer who appears tangentially in the novel).
In this week’s assignment, I ask you to listen to the music against the background of the discussions on music in the Proust reading. In particular, please consider the stylistic qualities of Proust’s writing, its pacing, its detail, its exhaustive turning-over and tireless contemplation of subtle emotional and mental states. Can you find in any of these musical selections comparable or parallel processes? If you were to apply musical considerations to the writing style of Proust, what might they reveal? Consider length, pacing, rate of change, rhythm, density, the flow of words and the flow of ideas.
Beyond this, please discuss the three musical selections from the standpoint of their individual attributes, what makes each work distinctive and unlike the other two. But don’t make generalizations or vague claims; point to specific, concrete elements that all of us can hear in these pieces.
This is a hard assignment, because all of the listenings are for solo piano, and so you must look (or listen) within the music for the particular personality or uniqueness of each piece. But in fact they are all quite different from one another, so there is plenty to comment on. Think of the “sameness” (all for solo piano) as an invitation to seek interior “difference” which might be obscured by obvious changes found in orchestral, vocal or instrumental music, or music composed to specific texts (which these are not).
Since this is a lot of music, I encourage you to listen to everything, but to focus your writing on one or two of the pieces within each longer set. My suggestions would be: from the Fauré, Preludes 1, 6, 7 or 9; from the Schoenberg, pieces 2 and 6; and from the Janacek, the first movement.
As a short p.s., I would like to point out the comment near the beginning of the Proust excerpt: “At first he had appreciated only the material quality of the sounds which those instruments secreted.” Please continue to think about the dialectic of “the two senses of sense” as discussed in class.
I hope you enjoy this music, these are some of the most wondrous and surprising creations of the period we are studying, and they should give you pleasure as well as yielding insights and provocative discussion!
Music that you have to listen to:
1) Gabriel Fauré, Preludes for solo piano, opus 103 (1909-1910)
2) Arnold Schoenberg, 6 Kleine Klavierstücke (1911)
3) Leos Janacek, In the Mists (1912)