Sunday, September 7, 2014

Absent Without Leave

October 15th 1905 saw the première of Debussy's "La Mer" (why then, you might well ask, is this brief monogram here, and not on this date in "The Book of Days"?), begun in Paris in 1903 and completed, of all unlikely places, at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, a place rather more associated with geriatrics nostalgic for a vanished past than with younger men determinedly innovating the radically new. The première took place in Paris, with the Orchestre Lamoureux under the baton of Camille Chevillard. Debussy himself died five years later, at the age of only fifty-six.

"La Mer" is a piece which, at one stage in my life, I adored with a passion that was worthy of Petrarch, playing it over and over, usually in the darkness, or at least in the semi-darkness of a candle, reading at the same time, probably some maudlin philosophical novelist like Turgenev or one of the poet-dreamers, maybe Faulkner or Virginia Woolf. Today, I find the work sententious and dull and practically never play it, except as background music when I am writing, and I am incapable of explaining why or even when that transformation took place.

But transformation it was, and the same applies, and quite probably it should apply, to a great deal of the art and literature and music that one comes to, and defines another aspect of this Private Collection: the items that used to be on the shelf, but have now been jettisoned, sent to that other catalogue, the Personal Remainder Store. 

There are points of conjunction in one's life, and there are moments of failure to conjoin, just as there are great love-affairs that end in bitter divorce, and restaurants which one once frequented but which are now passé. So there are books that I read twenty years ago and thought the wisest, the best written, the most illuminating of the human condition, and now I cannot fathom what I saw in them; while books that I had rejected suddenly opened up for me (or do I mean "in me"?), and I could barely accept the years of reading and re-reading them that I had squandered. Though, of course, I hadn't, because I wasn't ready for them. The same is true of people, of course, and we know it, and expect it; but somehow we don't know it, and don't expect it, about books or painting or concerti. 

Nor is it a matter of growing up - because many of those rejected works were serious works of Art and Literature, and not simply the pop music of my teens. It is about growing "beyond", a question of recognising that divorce is not exclusive to marriage. And for the others, it is a matter of being inwardly ready to receive them when the paths finally conjoin.

The temptation is to list some of those books (and sculptures and symphonies and poems...) now, but that would rather defeat the object. To name them because they were excluded from this list would thereby reinstate them, would ipso facto include them in this list. I would much prefer to hear from my readers which books, or paintings, or symphonies, or restaurants, would be on their list. The comment box below is open.

The illustration at the top of the page shows Monet's 1883 painting "Rough Seas at Etretat" (Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon), chosen from hundreds of sea-paintings in the world because Etretat is in another of my private collections, that of memories of places much loved and frequently visited - I spent the best part of 1977 and 1978 in Sainte Addresse, just half an hour by vélomoteur south of Etretat, and walked those cliffs, in storm as well as calm, a hundred times - and have never felt the slightest inclination to go back.

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