One of the most useful and enjoyable books to appear this year is the first English version of Saint Lambert’s 1702 classic Les Principles du Clavecin Contenant une Explication exact de tout ce qui concerne la Tablature et le Clavier. The translation is felicitous, the introduction and notes are an uncommon instance of musical scholarship lucidly presented, and the volume is elegantly produced—format, cover (with Thomas Hill’s painting Garton Orme at the Spinet), quality of paper, print, and music examples (both in facsimile and, for those containing more than one part, modern notation). This second publication in the Cambridge Musical Texts and Monographs series deserves high praise.
Saint Lambert’s title does not claim enough. Besides being a treatise on playing the harpsichord, the twenty-eight brief chapters are an authentic guide, as distinguished from a latter-day commentary, to musical performance generally in the time of Lully. The author, about whom the only known fact is that he had been called from Paris to the provinces to teach the clavecin, writes as if his lessons were intended for children. However that may be, professionals as well as amateurs, and of dance as well as music—the principal forms are chaconnes, gavottes, passepieds, rigaudons, sarabandes—should enroll in Saint Lambert’s course.
Harris-Warrick believes that François Couperin’s dictum, “The difference between notation and performance is immense” (L’Art de toucher le clavecin, 1716), may have been aimed at Saint Lambert’s literalism. Yet the Principes acknowledges the player’s considerable freedom in choosing agréments, while demonstrating that the object of the strict rules, such as the one for starting a trill with the upper note on the beat, is to achieve the “grace” which is Saint Lambert’s aesthetic ideal.
The most absorbing pages are devoted to the relationship between meter and tempo, but Saint Lambert’s unit of measurement must set a record for vagueness: “the steps of a man of average height who walks one and a quarter leagues in an hour.” All that can be said about average height in 1702 is that it would have been smaller than today. But with the help of Pascal Boyer’s Lettre à Monsieur Diderot (1767), and Ronald Zupko’s French Weights and Measures before the Revolution (1978), Harris-Warrick establishes that the league most likely intended by Saint Lambert was the “lieue de Paris,” which is equivalent to 2.4222 miles, and that the stride, if not of “a man of average height,” then of a French regiment, was ♩=107 per 2 1/2 feet, or ♩=125 for “deux pieds.”
When Umberto Eco’s Il nome della rosa first appeared in English, 1 many reviewers avoided criticizing it, being content merely to provide a résumé of the plot and to describe the principal characters, the two monks, William of Baskerville, a fourteenth-century Holmes (“It seems elementary to me”), and Adso of Melk, his Watson (“Once again I admired my master’s erudition”), the author of the novel within the novel. Eco’s detective story is more easily solved, however, than the mystery of the book’s immense popularity. How did the best-seller audience hang on during those interminable discussions of heretical sects? How did it manage the Inquisition scene, in which action is constantly thwarted by the stuffing-in of information about the Fraticelli? Even more puzzling, how did Book-of-the-Month Club readers cope with the phrases and paragraphs in Latin, and the forbidding English vocabulary? Viz., “The vibration of a climacus or a porrectus, a torculus or a salicus…a resupine neuma.” Musicologists are familiar with these words, as are zoologists and botanists, no doubt, with the terminology of medieval bestiaries and herbariums that similarly serves to fill long passages. But what of the general reader?
In the new “Postscript” to the novel, a book in the category, if not quite the rank, of Mann’s Doctor Faustus diary, The Story of a Novel, Eco says that after the Rose was published, “I was trying to figure out why the book was being read by people who surely could not like such ‘cultivated’ books.” But if this “figuring out” was successful, the result is not shared with the reader. Instead, Eco goes on to say that “Adso’s narrative style is based on that rhetorical device called preterition or paralepsis”—in simpler words, our way of saying “not to mention” what we then mention. But Eco is perfectly aware that his novel is a string of digressions, and that its popularity can only be attributed to the brilliance of his discourse and his ability, against all obstacles, to sustain suspense.
The Postscript contains bits of information about sources that will interest readers of the novel, particularly in the photographs of medieval sculpture, architecture, and illumination. Six of these illustrate passages from the Book of Revelation that have direct bearing on The Name of the Rose, the last of the six from the Queen Eleonore manuscript at Trinity College Library, Cambridge, picturing St. John taking the book from the angel and swallowing it. The best pages in the Postscript, however, raise questions concerning the meaning of “post-modernism”2 that are only generally related to the novel.
The Postscript condemns the technique of the omniscient author, the intruding novelist who interprets thoughts and motives and explains what his people say and do. But The Name of the Rose does not escape this criticism, for the reason that Baskerville is little more than a mouthpiece for the author’s lectures. The reader recognizes the voice of Umberto Eco, semiologist (“I have never doubted the truth of signs,” William says, “they are the only things man has with which to orient himself in the world”), quickly forgetting that William is the de facto speaker and Adso the de facto writer. One glaring weakness of William as a fictional character is that he is always right, always on the side of Reason and Enlightenment, while ignoring First Principles and embracing an empiricism ostensibly derived from Roger Bacon. Moreover, William’s anticlerical ironies are too predictable, as in his sermon on the virtues of worldly, as opposed to divine, love, and in such remarks as
Fear prophets, Adso, and those prepared to die for the truth, for as a rule they make many others die with them.
[The monks seemed] an assembly of gluttons, except that every sip or every morsel was accompanied by devotional readings.
The accuracy of Eco’s physical world picture of the year 1327 can be safely assumed from his Picture History of Inventions, written with the scientist G.B. Zorzoli. But the mental picture, which is partly compounded of everything that one person might possibly have known about the past and the present,3 cannot be accepted, in that no one could be acquainted with all of the principal trecento philosophical movements, both because they had not been recognized as such at the time and because the communications instruments to disseminate them did not exist. But after Adso’s wildly anachronistic reference to his “adolescent mind,” the reader no longer believes.
The Name of the Rose is, of course, heavily dependent on anachronism and disguised hindsight. The classic example of these usages is in Dante’s device for indicating that Pope Boniface VIII, though still alive during the poet’s journey in the Inferno, is destined to be sent there: “What, Boniface, here before thy time?” Dante calls out, pretending to mistake another of the damned for the Holy Father. Similarly, William of Baskerville asks his contemporaries to “suppose we had a machine that tells us where North is.”
Eco’s set pieces, such as the description of Europe’s vagrant populations with their diseased and maimed, their beggars and criminals, are highly accomplished, and many of his asides are memorable (“Young people need sleep more than the old, who have already slept so much, and are preparing to sleep for all eternity”). But the assumption of his plot, that Aristotle’s Poetics II, on comedy, officially lost4 but actually still extant in the very abbey in which William is sleuthing, seems not to allow for a feasible denouement.
The one monk aware of the existence of the text is determined to destroy it, and when others appear to be on the verge of discovering the secret, to destroy them. The clues and the suspects are examined in Sherlockian fashion, but the culprit, Jorge of Burgos,5 is more Agatha Christie than Conan Doyle, being both improbable and obvious. Long since blind and well beyond the years of physical strength that would enable him to perform the murders attributed to him, Jorge is also the only character to express opposition to the idea of Christ ever having laughed. When William asserts, “Laughter is proper to man, it is a sign of his rationality,” Jorge responds, “Not everything that is proper to man is necessarily good.”
The last scene is a crowning absurdity. William learns that Jorge has the manuscript, but Jorge poisons it. William has anticipated this, however, and escapes death. Jorge then tears the manuscript into pieces which he swallows in order to “seal that which was not to be said, in the grave I become,” and he goes on “tearing the pages and cramming them into his mouth,” while William fears that “the old man will eat up all of Aristotle.” Jorge is still tearing and eating when William finds him, after a chase, and at last sight “scraps of parchment” are “dripping from his mouth.” But long before this the reader has begun to wonder just how much poisoned parchment a toothless elder can devour, especially while racing about.
Though known two decades ago only to admirers of the Viennese Sezession, the art of Egon Schiele would probably draw as well at the Metropolitan Museum today as Van Gogh in Arles, and for some of the same reasons: the “romantically” premature death—Schiele at twenty-eight—and the “mad” intensity of the pictures.
The Schiele exhibition at the Ca’ Pesaro in Venice this autumn, though smaller than the one in Munich in 1975, offered a denser concentration of masterpieces, one of which, a seminude canvas of 1911, seems not to have been shown heretofore and has apparently not been reproduced.6 But a comprehensive presentation of Schiele, one that would include the sketchbooks in the Albertina, the woodcuts and other graphic work, and all known photographs of this artist7 who endowed the people in his pictures with his own postures and even physical features, has yet to be organized.
The show at the Ca’ Pesaro did not enable the viewer to form an appreciation of the profound changes in Schiele’s work during his last three years (1915–1918), when the portraits become increasingly naturalistic, the irregularly undulating lines of the female nudes tend to be reduced to convex curves, and the color to uniformity. Too few late pictures were displayed, and those of all periods were grouped according to medium, a standard approach to Schiele but unhelpful for the chronological study of his development. Furthermore, Edith Schiele, the artist’s wife, was represented in Venice by only one innocuous drawing, and though her role as a model was much less significant than that of Valerie Neuzil, Schiele’s mistress during the more fecund preceding period, 1911–1914, the 1915 picture of the seminude Edith embracing her spouse,8 and his powerful drawing of her as a dying woman, offset the several comparatively tensionless portraits and are essential to an understanding of the artist’s final period.
The catalog makes no improvement on its predecessors in the quality of the color reproductions, and Rudolph Leopold’s Egon Schiele of 1971 is still the superior album both in this regard and in intelligent commentary. To compare the reproductions of Three Standing Women (1918), one of the best-known pictures, in both Sabarsky’s catalog of the exhibition and Leopold’s book, is to juxtapose a pink beige picture with dark brown background and a yellowish beige one with light red patches on a background dominated by dark green; both are false, but the latter contains more of the original and is therefore useful as an aide-mémoire. Throughout his book, Leopold candidly points to the shortcomings of its reproductions, even in uncolored soft-lead drawings that fail to convey the effects of the originals.
Scale is an obstacle in all art books, of course, some miniatures and collages (Schwitters) excepted, but a Schiele bookshelf is an impossibility. The townscapes and landscapes cannot be reduced to page size because color alone does not provide sufficient differentiation in these flat-surface and generally crowded pictures. Moreover, many of Schiele’s eerily deserted cities and countrysides were conceived horizontally, in “geological” layers: clouds, mountain peaks, green foothills, shingled roofs, windows, walls, lines of laundry, grass, a street, more grass on the other side—which is to say, below. But in Sabarsky’s book Schiele’s oblong becomes a perfect square, with a corresponding vertical thrust. And when the reproduction does preserve the proportions, as in the March 1913 self-portrait with Frl. Neuzil, the shrinking to postcard size of this near-largest (70 × 240 cm.) of Schiele’s pictures drains it of the moods of the two figures, which is nearly everything.
Schiele’s primary subject is the human body as sexual object. For centuries, paintings of nudes were concerned largely with morbidezza and the stylizing-idealizing of female forms. Thus the shock when, c. 1910, Schiele focused on the genitalia, painting them red and further concentrating sight lines by mutilating the remaining anatomy, colored cadaverous greens and yellows. His most emphasized secondary sexual feature, moreover, is pubic and underarm hair, tufted in females, frizzed in males.
As a rule, and allowing for subjective differences in the spectator, erotic attraction in Schiele’s women is in inverse ratio to the degree of undress, with the exception of his entwining, totally nude Sapphic pairs. The seminudes with exotically-colored hosiery (one of them with nipples in matching orange) and Félicien Rops garters are more provoking than the stark-naked ones, but less so than the women with skirts and petticoats lifted above spread, stockinged knees, revealing only small expanses of flesh. By this token, the most “pornographic” picture of all is that of the Cardinal and Nun, in which everything is left to facial expressions, body positions, and viewers’ imaginations, intromission being completely hidden beneath the garments of the lovers.
The strain of kneeling, crouching, twisting, stretching, and the other contortions that Schiele obliged his models to perform shows in their eyes, along with desire, acquiescence, fear, and vacancy (during intercourse), all of which charge these scenes with immediacy. Here it might be said that Schiele’s anxious lovers are at the extreme opposite from the smiling ones in Taoist paintings, or the choreographed figures in Indian temple sculpture, playfully following a by-the-numbers Art of Love. “I believe that man must suffer from sexual torture as long as he is capable of sexual feelings,” Schiele wrote.
The seminude of 1911 reproduced in Sabarsky’s book reminds the viewer of Balthus: a young girl, with no undergarments, lies on her stomach, legs spread, skirt billowing above the waist. But the brilliant red, orange, yellow, and blue stripes of the skirt, like flower petals around the pistil of the lower body, is remote from Balthus or any other artist. The upper body is not perspectively related to the lower, however, which is also true of some of Schiele’s other recumbent figures, and this is not a mannerism but a fault—which may also be said of the simultaneous front and profile faces and the Futurist heads that seem not to integrate with the portraits as wholes. In one 1913 drawing of a copulating couple, the head of the straddling male might have been borrowed from Marinetti.
Schiele suffered from “unconditional omnipotence,” in the language of the ego psychology of his time, and the neurosis never seems to have entered any less extreme stage. Alessandra Comini9 contends that his life was profoundly altered by the twenty-four-day incarceration to which he was subject in the spring of 1912, and that he saw himself thereafter as a martyr and social outcast. But surely he always saw himself that way, and his verbal and graphic record of the experience confirms that it inflated his feelings of supremacy still more. In one “De Profundis” in his prison diary, he sanely observes that “to be in control, to be ready to endure…is a self-evident duty,” and he demands of God whether He wishes to tolerate the indignity to the artist. In the final entry, Schiele remarks triumphantly that “anyone who has not suffered as I have—how ashamed he will have to feel before me from now on.”
Schiele’s narcissism, the dandyism, dependence on mirrors, high proportion of self-portraits (as Saint Sebastian, Death, Joseph in The Holy Family, in addition to Egon Schiele), and the infantile fascination with his sexual parts (in one drawing of masturbation, he even portrays his face as conventionally handsome) can only be described as morbid. But his compulsion to transpose his own head, hands, eyes, and poses to the people he painted sometimes requires a stronger word: in the 1910 Baby, for instance, in which the infant’s arms terminate in Schiele’s long, spidery fingers, the effect is macabre. No one, not the unborn Christ, not even Arnold Schoenberg, the portrait of whom, unlike Kokoschka’s, captures the composer’s personality as well as his likeness, seems to have escaped the grouping of the fingers—as most photographs of Schiele show him doing.
Sabarsky quotes the late Erich Lederer, whom Schiele drew several times: “Of all the people I have known in my life Egon Schiele was the most normal.” No artist of Schiele’s stature is “normal,” of course, but if the statement was intended to demythicize him, it has validity. For one thing, Schiele continued to function, to paint, during his three years in the Austrian Army, apparently adjusting to the radical change in his personal life. For another, he was remarkably successful in the worldly way, attracting influential friends and patrons, quickly gaining recognition, exhibiting throughout Central and Northern Europe, and finding buyers for his work. In this he doubtless exploited the voyeurist element in his art; but he did not, in his lifetime—the time of Weininger, of Musil’s Moosbrugger, of Wedekind’s Lulu plays—feel the wrath of moral rectitude that descended on his work in the 1930s and 1940s.
Honor to Egon Schiele, who mastered his art and exposed vital, previously hidden territories of the human mind and condition.
The centenary of Alban Berg (1885–1935) begins on a high peak of musical analysis in George Perle’s Lulu. Unfortunately, the book’s most valuable chapter, on the musical language of the opera, can be digested only by those who learn the author’s terminology and methodology and who acquire an intimate knowledge of the score. The present review, intended for general readers and the large musical public, is necessarily confined to the biographical portions of the book and the nontechnical discussion of the opera’s musico-dramatic design.
Mr. Perle provides a minute examination of the composer’s collation of Wedekind’s two Lulu plays into a three-act opera. Here it must suffice to say that an act in Wedekind is reduced to a scene in Berg, whose Act II combines the last act of Wedekind’s first play and the first act of his second play. But Perle never questions whether this sequence works within a three-act structure or the inherent limitations for musical treatment of some of Wedekind’s characters, even though it is now known that Berg himself realized that the role of the Athlete had become too large.
Mr. Perle does not give much space to the social comment in Lulu through purely musical means, though Berg’s musical portraits vastly transcend Wedekind’s verbal ones. The Prince’s “chorale,” for example, conveys an empty gentility that words cannot evoke, and the wide assortment of class distinctions are as clearly delineated, and caricatured, in Berg’s complex musical language as they are in the simpler idioms of an eighteenth-century opera composer.
The subscription audience can follow the broad lines of Lulu by such traditional means of recognition as the leitmotif, the instrumental associations (Lulu and the saxophone), and the more memorable of melodic and thematic contours (the succession of six diatonic pitches of Lulu’s series). But Berg’s use of series and tropes to evoke dramatic situations, to define his characters and reflect their thoughts (implied as well as expressed), and to establish the most profound relationships and cross-connections, involves technical transmutations far above most ears and heads. To give only one example, when the character identified with a certain series cries, “It isn’t true,” three notes are displaced, each one in a different segment of the series. But which audience today is likely even to recognize the series, let alone the displacements symbolizing the doubt referred to in the libretto? Just conceivably the answer could lie in sufficient exposure to good performances.
But for the first time in a thirty-year study of the opera, Mr. Perle concedes some of its weaknesses. He now tells us that the prison scene in Act II where Geschwitz and Lulu switch places is even more confusing in Berg’s libretto than in Wedekind’s original, and that the duet between Lulu and the Marquis in Act III, “Perhaps the climactic number of the work as a whole,” is “disappointing.” But how are we to understand his repeated assertions that Lulu was not an unfinished opera at the time of Berg’s death, when “various tasks were required for the completion of the third act,” only the melody being given in one place, for example, and, in another, only the vocal part in a quartet? Certainly the instrumentation that Friedrich Cerha added for the third act does not sound like Berg’s orchestra in the remainder of the opera.
Now to the lowly subject of biography. Helene Berg, the composer’s wife, is Mr. Perle’s villainess; and unquestionably she behaved both foolishly and dishonestly. But before judgment can be passed, a deeper character study of Berg himself is needed than the one presented in this book. After her husband’s death, Helene demanded that his publishers issue all three acts of Lulu, even though the final one had not been completely orchestrated. She then accepted their decision that in the state in which Berg had left Act III, her request was impractical. In the first performance (Zurich, 1937), as well as in all subsequent ones for forty years, the opera was given in disastrously truncated form, with the inclusion of only ten minutes or so of music from the final scene.
At some unknown date Frau Berg changed her mind about Act III and attempted to suppress it. By the late 1940s, when interest in the opera began to revive, she had become adamant in her position, to the extent of preventing scholars from examining the manuscript. Her reasons for this are not clear, and Mr. Perle does not discuss what would seem the most obvious of them, the shocking subject matter, pimping, street-walking prostitution, white slavery, and the Psychopathia Sexualis. (Sexually speaking, the first two acts do not venture beyond adultery and various kinds of promiscuity.) Isn’t it conceivable that in the mid-1930s, Helene Berg may have thought that she was protecting her husband’s reputation?
Apparently trying to bury the secret of his love for Hanna Fuchs-Robettin, to whom he had given the score of his Lyric Suite, Helene fibbed about the ownership of the manuscript. This is indefensible, of course, even though the society of the time did not sympathize with the wives of straying husbands, and stigmatized abandoned and divorced women. But Helene discussed the romance in letters to Frau Fuchs-Robettin’s sister-in-law, Alma Mahler-Werfel, a renowned gossip whose social and cultural position virtually guaranteed that the story would be made public. And in these letters, the reader is persuaded that the widow Berg is honest with herself and quite probably perceptive about her husband. Alban, she says,
didn’t want too close an association with this woman, as he imagined her in the unheard-of florescence of his artist’s fantasy, for fear of disappointment. He avoided her…. It all comes to a flight from reality. In this way and only this way could the Lyric Suite have come to be…. Someday I will stand with her before God.
Since Berg seems not to have pursued “the right true end of love,” no “affair” apparently having developed with Frau Fuchs-Robettin (though more information could still be forthcoming from her family), and since the composer was evidently one of those who goes to sea “for nothing but to make him sick,” his wife’s account of his fantasy life is at least credible.
As for Berg’s side, while describing his wife to his “one and only eternal love” as a “person who constitutes only a completely exterior layer of myself,” he seems to have had no difficulty in keeping up the flow of endearments. But Mr. Perle does not reproach Berg for his duplicity, either here or in his silence concerning his illegitimate daughter, for at age seventeen the future composer of Wozzeck, an opera involving a bastard child, impregnated the family housemaid. She was sent away for her confinement, and in later years Berg corresponded with the daughter she bore, but never otherwise acknowledged the girl. Mr. Perle blames Helene, not Alban, for the secretiveness, yet Helene must have suffered from her own illegitimacy, even though her father was the Emperor Franz Josef.
During the Berg centennial, the Metropolitan Opera will give Lulu four times, Wozzeck eight. George Perle’s books on both of these two greatest modern operas are essential reading for anyone who intends to see them.
December 20, 1984
The Name of the Rose (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983; paper, Warner Books, 1984). ↩
See also Eco’s Sette anni di desiderio: Chronache 1977–1983 (Milan: Bompiani, 1984). ↩
“The first year of work on my novel was devoted to the construction of the world. Long registers of all the books that could be found in a medieval library.” (Postscript, p. 24) ↩
See Richard Janko’s Aristotle on Comedy (University of California Press, 1984), which argues that the Tractatus Coislinianus, the tenth-century Byzantine manuscript in the Bibliothèque Nationale, is a précis of Poetics II. Though this is most unlikely, some of the substance of the Tractatus does derive from Aristotle. ↩
In the Postscript, Eco says that the name came to him because Jorge Luis Borges is blind, Spanish-speaking, and was a librarian, but Eco offers no explanation for having associated the Argentine writer with a homicidal fanatic who proves to be the Antichrist. ↩
Plate 82 in Egon Schiele by Serge Sabarsky, the catalog of the exhibition. ↩
Nebehay’s Egon Schiele (Salzburg and Vienna, 1980) and Alessandra Comini’s Egon Schiele’s Portraits (University of California Press, 1975) contain the fullest photographic archive. ↩
Plate 87 in Rudolph Leopold’s Egon Schiele (London: Phaidon, 1971). ↩
Schiele in Prison (New York Graphic Society, 1973). ↩