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Another is to choose a single text from this period as a central reference point for memory. Nonetheless, their lives resembled each other in several respects: hey were born four years apart, were Parisian dandies, and ran in similar social circles.

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A com- mon orientation toward aestheticism, pastiche, and memory—all part of the dec- adent legacy—further unites them, as I have discussed elsewhere. Within the low of time, the past becomes present either by continuing smoothly into it or breaking into it at a particular moment. How the past does so depends on what it is.

My compari- son of memories to shocks alludes, of course, to the theorization of modern urban life by Baudelaire, who was also a major inluence on Proust. For readers of the novel, they call atention to an important paradox of memory: how the return of past experience can be felt as something shockingly new. As an aspect of subjectivity, memory is included among the cognitive faculties that ena- ble relection and self-relection.

When memories are shared, memory turns out from the self-relective subject and toward society; by making private experience public, memory builds communities by fostering communication, interaction, and self-knowledge among individuals and groups. Memory also refers the self back to itself by serving the rememberer.

While memory might have the simple goal of retrieving facts about the past, it can also fulill less practical and rational aims, including the production of pleasure as well as the exquisitely painful pleasure of the unrequitable in and through the act of reminiscence. However, the justiication for memory work need not be so simple or noble as this. Memory serves the rememberer by also being of the rememberer. At irst thought, memory might seem to diminish the presence of the rememberer by casting its spotlight entirely on the remembered past.

RAVEL THE DECADENT MEMORY, SUBLIMATION AND DESIRE — Michael J Puri

For one, the crea- tivity of memory keeps alive the dialogue between present and past, simultane- ously satisfying and frustrating our desire to comprehend the past since all of our interpretations of the past are as provisional as the shape of any particular recol- lection. For another, Proust also proposes that creativity can feel mnemonic, as if entities newly created in the present were merely returning from the past in an instance of Platonic anamnesis III, For a dandy like Proust, memory could even be thought to sublimate life into a form of art, refashioning the past in such a way as to lend it a coherent style.

For Marcel, this homoge- neity is a sign of mature artistry, as exempliied in the work of various ictional characters: the actor Berma, the composer Vinteuil, and the painter Elstir. Just as memory may be a stimulant, so too might it be a narcotic—one oten made possible by narcotics themselves, as the protodec- adents de Quincey and Baudelaire famously discovered in their experimentation with opium and hashish. Further, memory can feel like an illness, especially in its involuntary mode.

Suf- fering from various ailments that conined him to his apartment, Proust was a prime historical example of the neurotic genius, and his novel was one of its great- est products. It is they and they alone who found religions and create great works of art. We should also not forget that nostalgia was recog- nized as a bona ide medical condition from the late seventeenth century into the mid-twentieth century. In other words, we need a methodology that balances the idiomatic qualities of music with the concerns of memory studies. Seeking to represent the two disciplines equally, I have compiled a set of ques- tions that address content, timing, transformation, agency, and value.

Here, then, is the slate of questions, prefaced by their respective rubrics: Content: What constitutes present and past?

Ravel the Decadent: Memory, Sublimation and Desire

Timing: When does the past reappear, and how long does it last? Transformation: How has the past been altered in its reappearance in the present? Agency: Who or what is remembering the past? Value: What is the value of the past for the remembering subject? However, to launch into analysis at this point would be premature: While it is clear that these questions address memory, their relation to music still needs to be leshed out, especially regarding the question of content.

One type of content for a musical memory is historical and recognizably belongs to the past, whether it is an entire tonal system or some part thereof, an aspect of rhythm and meter, texture, or instrumentation, a genre, a theme, or the like. A question arises upon regarding historical content: If it must belong to the past, how should we deal with pieces that have one foot in the present? Either we can be content with merely identifying the hybridization of memory and living tradition in such instances of historical ambivalence, or we can atempt to gauge the presence of memory in a speciic piece by examining it for marks that betray a sense of distance from the past.

When considering the second type of content, we are faced with the dizzy- ing possibility of describing any and all contextual repetitions as memories.


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To constrain this possibility, we can identify several situations in which we would not confuse the two: When the repeated material still seems to belong to the present as applies especially well to immediate repetition , when it unambiguously conforms to the dictates of conventional form as do elements in a binary-form reprise or a sonata-form recapitulation , and, from a phenom- enological perspective, when it has been altered so much from its original ver- sion as to make it highly unlikely for listeners to recognize it in the past; here, the governing supposition is that music resembles memory more strongly when it actually provokes the listener to remember.

Yet these are only rules of thumb and may not apply in certain circumstances—such as a sonata-form movement that is so distant from common practice and heterogeneous in its material that the moment of recapitulation no longer seems routine. Given the precision with which our Cartesian notation charts temporal succession in music, we can refer to measure numbers and beats to answer questions of timing.

Nevertheless, the question of timing is always also a question of form since the moment an event occurs within a piece is also the site where the event takes place within its formal design. In more philosophical terms, time unfolds music; music unfolds time; music and time unfold each other.

Since agency is oten indeterminate and value requires interpretation, these categories are trickier but not impossible to address. Rather than being merely presentist or arbitrary, the interpretation of value is guided by historical accounts even if they do not achieve consensus and musical semiotics. Performers arguably play an important role in this process insofar as successfully enacting memory in an artistic medium would require them to inhabit that mem- ory as if they were actually recollecting its contents and experiencing all of the concomitant emotions.

Content he Sonatine was writen in two phases: Ater composing the irst movement in for a competition that never came to fruition, Ravel completed the second and third movements and published the suite in Due to its title and layout, as well as its fairly tonal material and traditional phraseology, the Sonatine is oten described as neo- classical even though it was composed more than a decade prior to the interwar lourishing of musical Neoclassicism.

Puri's exhaustive musical analysis demands concentrated attention, with scores and recordings at hand. Moreover, the author writes like an academic, sometimes to murky effect. He sees no reason to use a word like "insertion" if "intercalation" is available, and he seems to think that "retrospect" is a verb. But his insights into the music's behavior often reward the hard work. I am not thoroughly convinced that he pulls off his central argument about the rhetorical implications of Ravel's music, but Puri's thoughts about the works themselves are consistently provocative and convincing.

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It is a book that will let you hear the composer with fresh ears. December — Vol.


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  • Current Issue Table of Contents. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while. No cover image. Read preview. Synopsis The music of Maurice Ravel , beloved by musicians and audiences since its debut, has been a difficult topic for scholars. The traditional stylistic categories of impressionism, symbolism, and neoclassicism, while relevant, have offered too little purchase on this fascinating but enigmatic work.

    In Ravel the Decadent, author Michael Puri provides an innovative and productive solution by locating the aesthetic origins of this music in the French Decadence and demonstrating the extension of this influence across the length of his oeuvre. From an array of Decadent topics Puri selects three--memory, sublimation, and desire--and uses them to delineate the content of this music, pinpoint its overlap with contemporary cultural discourse, and link it to its biographical context, as well as to create new methods altogether for the analysis and interpretation of music.

    Ravel the Decadentopens by defining the main concepts, giving particular attention to memory and decadence.

    It then stakes out contrasting modes of memory in this music: a nostalgic mode that views the past as forever lost, and a more optimistic one that imagines its resurrection and reanimation. Acknowledging Ravel's lifelong identity as a dandy - a figure that embodies the Decadence and its aspiration toward the sublime - Puri identifies possible moments of musical self-portraiture before stepping back to theorize dandyism in European musical modernism at large.

    Ravel plays Ravel

    He then addresses the dialectic between desire and its sublimation in the pairing of two genres - the bacchanal and the idyll - and leverages the central trio of concepts to offer provocative readings of the two waltz sets, the Valses nobles et sentimentales and La valse. Puri concludes by invoking the same terms to identify a topic of "faun music" that promises to create new common ground between Ravel and Debussy.

    Rife with close readings that will satisfy the musicologist,Ravel the Decadentalso suits a more general reader through its broadly humanistic key concepts, immersion in contemporary art and literature, and clarity of language. Excerpt The music of the French composer Maurice Ravel — is one of the great artistic successes of the twentieth century, as beloved for its beauty as it is esteemed for its craft.