Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Under The Right Hands, Black And White Are Colours

Fig. 1. Josef Danhauser - Liszt at the Piano, 1840

'I sat near [Liszt] so that I could see both his hands and face. For the first time in my life I beheld real inspiration - for the first time I heard the true tones of the piano. He played one of his own compositions - one of a series of religious fantasies. There was nothing strange or excessive about his manner. His manipulation of the instrument was quiet and easy, and his face was simply grand - the lips compressed and the head thrown a little backward. When the music expressed quiet rapture or devotion a sweet smile flitted over his features; when it was triumphant the nostrils dilated. There was nothing petty or egoistic to mar the picture.'

George Eliot

Your Ears Will Orgasm #48a: Franz Liszt - Hungarian Rhapsodies 1-6, played by Michele Campanella (MixPod Player)

1. No. 1 in C sharp minor
2. No. 2 in C sharp minor
3. No. 3 in B flat
4. No. 4 in E flat
5. No. 5 in E minor (Héroide Elégiaque)
6. No. 6 in D flat

Addendum #1: My friend Jana - bless her heart - has corrected my embarrassing slackness-cum-ignorance with respect to the personages depicted in Josef Danhauser's painting of Liszt at the piano: and, since the information is so relevant to the quote from George Eliot, here it is, with a basketful of thanks:

Funny you should not know. This painting is featured more prominently in the history of music than the history of art, since it's a curious document: more an aesthetic manifesto than visual art.

The painting features Romanticism itself: a trio of musicians represented by Liszt on the piano, and Paganini and Rossini in the back. Then a trio of writers, from George Sand (drawing a line of attention from Liszt to the left, prominently stretching in the armchair), to Alexandre Dumas Sr on her left, and Victor Hugo leaning over the chair. But note the importance given to two major romantic artists: the bust of Beethoven on the piano, and the painting of Byron at the back wall.

The feminine-lookin' lady on the floor is the mother of Liszt's daughter, who married Richard Wagner. Wife? I wouldn't know. She is obviously not one of the compadres here.

PS: Folks, if you want to see a truly great mind at work, check out Jana's blog, guerrilla semiotics. (This is not a paid advertisement).

Addendum #2: Some More (And This May Bore) On Metaphor*

Fig. 2. Giuseppe Arcimboldo - Portrait with Vegetables (The Greengrocer), c. 1590

* Extract from Siri Hustvedt's Charles Dickens and the Morbid Fragment as a downloadable PDF.