Friday, September 24, 2010

Triangles; "The Iron Virgin" in Melomaniacs

James Huneker explores emotional triangles of immense variety in his book Melomaniacs. It would appear that these attractions and temptations fuel sympathetic resonance in the musicians within them that leads to volatile reactions and unexpectedly desperate schemes. It creates great fiction.

Consider "The Iron Virgin" where a triangle of desire is formed between recently deceased composer Ambroise Patel, his young widow Olivie Patel, and the young poet and musician Robert Chardon. Awakening comes slowly as we sort through the nature of collaboration between the “librettist” Robert and the “composer” Ambroise Patel.

Robert apparently wrote both the libretto and the music of a work called "The Iron Virgin." He gave it to Ambroise, who accepted credit for its music in a desperate appeal to eternity knowing that it would make him famous, and that his own “mediocre” music would not. Ambroise Patel leaves a great opera and yet one that he had not written. Robert believed that the "Iron Virgin" would unite him with Olivie after the death of Ambroise, the name of the opera becoming a startling metaphor of his love for Olivie. It was a strange attempt to control her and win her affections. But, the audacity and deception explode, echoing off of The Scream by Munch, and Robert is left with neither the work nor the widow, and leaves in the rain (symbol of Chopin and Liszt) to drink absinthe by the water.

The full effect of the triangle is properly formed only after the death of Ambroise, but in continuing to love him, to love his echo, his wife has made a choice, like Tannhäuser. “The great infinite cry of nature,” lines inscribed on “The Scream” by Edward Munch haunt this story and its personalities. The eyes of the painting peer into the very room in which its characters stand “peering into our souls, into my soul which is black with sin and music.” “Munch is the first man who painted tone.” This is a story of echoes.

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