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An Orchestration of the Arts in Wallace Stevens’ “Peter Quince at the Clavier”

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Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 63)

Abstract

Any discussion of the topic of “The Orchestration of the Arts: the Fullness of Life Expressed in Correspondence of Sound, Image, Color, Movement, Rhythm, Gesture, Word, Fragrance, Touch” must include reference to Wallace Stevens’ “Peter Quince at the Clavier,” for it begins with the idea that the clavier can produce, as it were, the music of many instruments, e.g., violin, cymbals, horns, etc., and that, in its turn, the music presents a complex of emotions springing from desire, with some critics suggesting its form is analogous to a musical form, such as the sonata. Its similarity to the topic does not stop there, for while the poem refers primarily to expression of music, its reference to Susanna and the Elders makes use of the (Apocryphal) narrative inserted in the Book of Daniel and to that story’s representations in painting, such as by Tintoretto. Then, its words also refer to colors, movements, fragrance, etc., these references making use of arts associated to these categories, e.g., painting, dance, and musical composition, and these, in turn, alluding perhaps to paintings by Tintoretto and Botticelli and to music by Bach. “The Orchestration of the Arts” is so exactly suited to this poem that it may be thought sufficient to simply present the poem in its entirety and to let it speak for itself. For example, the fifteen lines of the first section begin in the movement of fingers on the keyboard (of a clavier) to make music; it finds correspondence in music, sound, and feeling; it continues with the visual and tactile; and it makes a transition to Susanna and the Elders. Then, orchestrating all these, it returns to music again. This set of correspondence is associated with the erotic, both celibate and rapacious.

Keywords

Musical Composition Transcendental Phenomenology Earth Compact Magic Potents White Elder 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    My translation of Baudelaire’s “Correspondences”: “La Nature est un temple ou de vivants pilliers/Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles:/L’homme y passe a travers des forets de symboles/ Qui l’obvservent avec des regards familier.// Comme de longs echos qui de loin se confondent/ Dans une tenebreuse et profonde unite,/ Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarte,/ Les parfums, les couleurs, riches et triomphants,// 11 est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants,/ Doux comme les hautbois, vers comme les praiaries,/-Et d’autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,// Ayant 1”expansion des choses infinies,/ Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens,/ Qui chantent les transports de l’esprit at des sens.“Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Enid Starkie, Baudelaire ( New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1933 ), p. 191.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, ed. Milton J. Bates ( New York: A. A. Knopf, 1990 ) pp. 13–14.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Wallace Stevens, Souvenirs and Prophecies: The Young Wallace Stevens (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1977) pp. 32–3, and 68, and George Santayana, Poems,sel. by R. Hutchinson (New York: Dover Publications, 1970) p. 105. “A local habitation” is a favorite phrase of Santayana, who used it in several works; it captures so much of his philosophy, without, of course, his being restricted to Platonism. Also, Stevens shows a long-term interest in the aesthetic problems indicated by Theseus. For more about Stevens’ interest in Theseus, see Alison Riecke, “Ariadne’s Apron Strings: Stevens and Andre Gide,” Wallace Stevens Journal,21/1 (Spring 1997), 36–54, p. 38Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The American Scholar” in Essays and Lectures, ed. Joel Porte (New York: Library of America, 1983 ), p. 62.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    George Santayana, The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outlines of Aesthetic Theory,(New York: Dover Publications, 1955, rep. of 1886); references are given in the text as SB plus the page number.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    David Carr, Introduction, to Edmund Husserl’s The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, tr. D. Can (Evanston: Northwesern University Press, 1970), p. xxxvi.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

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