Friday, May 13, 2011

A sensual experience in Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

"...The needle touched the plate. Bullinger put down the heavy lid. Through the loud-speaker poured a proud mezzo-soprano voice, which did not much trouble about clear enunciation: you understood: "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" and not a great deal else. But the singing, unfortunately accompanied by a rather whining orchestra, was wonderful in its warmth, tenderness, sombre lament for happiness, like the melody, which indeed in both of the structurally similar strophes of the aria reaches its full beauty only in the middle and finishes in away to overpower the senses, especially the second time, when the violin, now quite sonorous, emphasizes with pleasing effect the voluptuous vocal line and repeats the closing figure in delicate and melancholy postlude.

They were moved. One lady wiped an eye with her embroidered party handkerchief. "Crazy beautiful!" said Bullinger, using a phrase now in favour among stricter connoisseurs, who rejected the sentimental "lovely." It might be said to be used here exactly in its right and proper place, and perhaps that was what amused Adrian.

"Well, there!" he said, laughing. "You understand now how a serious man can be capable of adoring the thing. Intellectual beauty it has not, of course, it is typically sensual. But after all one must not blush for the sensual, nor be afraid of it."

"And yet, perhaps," Dr. Kranich was heard to say. He spoke, as always, very clearly, with
distinct articulation, though wheezing with asthma. "Perhaps, after all, in art. In this realm in fact one may, or one should, be afraid of the nothing-but-sensual; one should be ashamed of it, for, as the poet said, it is the common, the vulgar: 'Vulgar is everything that does not speak to the mind and spirit and arouses nothing but a sensual interest.'"

From "Doctor Faustus" by Thomas Mann, translated by John E. Woods.

Listen to

Camille Saint-Saëns - Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix (Marilyn Horne)

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