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

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


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.


Musical Composition Transcendental Phenomenology Earth Compact Magic Potents White Elder 
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  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.
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  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
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  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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