Version classiqueVersion mobile

Ouvertures mélopoétiques

 | 
Jean-Louis Cupers

Illustrations

12. Aldous Huxley’s Variations on a Musical Theme

Texte intégral

The most difficult of all the arts, music
Aldous Huxley, The Human Situation.

Introduction. Music in Huxley

  • 1 Patrick Brady, Comparative Literature, 45, 4, 1993, p. 390. The reference is to Wilda Anderson’s Di (...)
  • 2 See George Wickes/Ray Frazer, “Aldous Huxley” (interview), Writers at Work: The “Paris Review” Inte (...)

1However dubious some of its musical “interpretations”, there is little doubt that it can be extremely rewarding to view Diderot’s Le neveu de Rameau “through a serious study of the analogy with music1”. Diderot’s text does indeed teem with constant evocations and suggestions of the art of music. Therefore Aldous Huxley’s remark about Mrs Humphry Ward would not seem pointless. Mrs Ward, Huxley says, never embarked on a new novel but she read Diderot’s dialogue. And he goes on to say: “It seemed to act as a kind of trigger or release mechanism2”. Did the “no end of good advice” which she gave him during the long talks held together include the hint to try and do likewise?

2In view of the difficulties inherent in any approach to a writer’s relationship with music it seems appropriate to summarize the many ways in which Huxley’s musico-literary enterprise is both exemplary and idiosyncratic. In the process I eventually want to arrive at the 1956 essay “Gesualdo: Variations on a Musical Theme”, as this particular instance of the ‘musical’ Huxley sheds more light on the subject than would the repetitions in any more straightforward overview.

  • 3 Alexander Henderson, Aldous Huxley, London, 1964; 1935, p. 81.

3In his pioneering attempt at a “careful reading” of Aldous Huxley in the thirties, Alexander Henderson noted the increasing importance of music to Huxley as he grew older3. Though, in a narrow sense, Henderson’s remark, seen from nowadays, is misleading (roughly speaking, after Eyeless in Gaza – in many ways the apotheosis of the contrapuntal method music will tend to disappear as an explicit topic), it seems to me that he was pointing out a profound truth. A careful reading of Huxley lays indeed bare the extraordinary homogeneity of his writings despite their surface versatility. In his music criticism in particular there are to be found a great many ideas which are later developed in his fiction, and at times the inverse relation may be true as well: the third column in the Westminster Gazette utilized material from Crome Yellow!

  • 4 See Jean-Louis Cupers, Aldous Huxley et la musique. À la manière de Jean-Sébastien, Bruxelles, 1985 (...)
  • 5 Huxley et la musique, p. 250-251.

4Huxley’s technical accuracy in describing the Mendelssohnian chord in “Farcical History” in his first collection of stories – a literary prowess in its own right4 – contains in germ the musical analogy, the notion of “like music” in Antic Hay that will form a recurring pattern in practically all Huxleyan fiction5. The importance of music obvious in this early example will be echoed in the ultimate chapter of his last completed novel Island. In similar fashion the multifarious relations running from fiction to essay and vice versa in the entire œuvre show the necessity for the critic to reconstruct deep from surface structures.

  • 6 See Calvin S. Brown, rev. “Huxley et la musique”, Comparative Literature, 39, 2, 1987, p. 170-172; (...)

5Huxley’s lifelong interest in, and knowledge of, music, his familiarity with a vast repertoire, his music criticism, his devoting much thought to the intellectual aspects of the art, his drawing on it for structural devices, and also, his friendship with several important composers make him “almost the ideal subject for a study of a writer’s relationship to music6”. Indeed, almost three quarters of a century after Point Counter Point – and particularly in view of the explosion of literary attempts at music today – there is no enumerating how many writers as well as critics may have emulated Huxley’s example. Calvin S. Brown himself admitted:

  • 7 Letter to Jean-Louis Cupers of 30 October 1985.

Actually, one of the things that sparked my early interest in musico-literary relationships was Huxley’s literary use of the “heiliger Dankgesang” of Beethoven’s Op. 132 in Point Counter Point7.

  • 8 See Calvin S. Brown, Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts, Hanover/London, 1987, p. 211. (...)

6Will for once the pioneer’s forecast that for all its brilliance and ingenuity Point Counter Point “seems to have been a blind alley and to have made no contribution to the technique of fiction8” turn out to be wrong?

  • 9 TMHS, ch. 17, p. 170: “[…] the blueness brightened up towards a purer incandescence, the music modu (...)

7Huxley’s literary interest in music was bom out of the experience of the genuine commonality of a number of aspects – including silence, the paramount one9 – linking the worlds of sounds and of words, the ambiguous material of verbal art. Or to state the problems in more theoretical terms:

  • 10 Original preface to J.-L. Cupers, Ulrich Weisstein (ed.), Musico-Poetics Today: Calvin S. Brown in (...)

When one realizes that verbal art emerges from the aesthetic anaphora of words or language, that is, the bonding together of concepts with a sound-image, it becomes startlingly clear that this justifies the linkage of literature with music on the one hand (the “sound”) and with the visual arts (the “image”) on the other. But this initial claim, however legitimate it may be, needs specification. To become the “living images” (Those Barren Leaves) of literary art, the visual-auditory signs that words constitute must be taken up into the formal constructs of writers and converted into their readers’ percepts, thus providing one with a further reason for comparing systematically the various components of these eminently comparable though variable experiences10.

  • 11 HS, London, 1977, p. 195.
  • 12 See Aldous Huxley, “Faith, Taste and History,” in: AA (London, 1956), 232: “[...] the fundamental t (...)
  • 13 Huxley et la musique, p. 292-294.
  • 14 Calvin S. Brown, “Aspects méthodologiques de l’approche musico-littéraire”, in Jean-Louis Cupers (e (...)

8Given its primarily and essentially (but not necessarily) non-representational character, music poses special problems which make it “the most difficult of all the arts11”. The necessary abandonment of mimesis in the aesthetic theory of music is one of the reasons why differences between the art of tones and the other arts (except perhaps for architecture) are in many ways more striking than similarities12. It is only to be expected, then, that interartistic influences should be ambiguous and complex. For instance, Huxley points out that literary concerns in music have on the whole been pernicious to much recent programme music, whereas literary concerns in painting have been beneficial to the visual arts: witness the formal wealth of literary painters of the past13. In the case of literature versus music one of the basic difficulties encountered is the failure to realize that the transposition of forms from one art to the other can never be a matter of course – mainly, as Brown argues, “because the elements which enter into structure in the two arts are not the same”. In other words, resemblances and parallels “can be only analogous or metaphorical”. Yet the existence of purely linguistic metaphors does not preclude interartistic analogues based – through various stratagems – on metaphors which are more than « merely » linguistic. So the real problem is that of holding the metaphors “on a tight rein”, not allowing them “to run wild14”.

  • 15 Significantly there is only one – minimal – instance of this in the whole of Huxley’s œuvre (except (...)

9At the crossroads between the desire to go beyond appearances and the resources of an ambiguous material, such as language, this delicate presence-absence relation between the two sister arts can take many forms, from the onomatopoetic (the most concrete) to the technical (the most abstract). The balance remains precarious for the simple reason that the other art can never be fully or even actually present (as in the case of the insertion of a musical score into a literary text15), though there is at times – as the example of Shakespeare shows – the possibility of drawing on music itself... or remaining silent. From the multitude of mutual implications of mendacious discourses – mendacious because incomplete – the writer hopes to find the reverberating “beauty-truth” about music that will enable him to come nearer to expressing the inexpressible. Condemned to literature’s inexorable linearity, this juxtaposition is of course the writer’s only way of coming as close as possible to music’s power of presenting incompatibles simultaneously:

  • 16 Aldous Huxley, On Art and Artists, ed. Morris Philipson, London, 1960, p. 7.

Music can say four or five different things at the same time, and can say them in such a way that the different things will combine into one thing. The nearest approach to a demonstration of the doctrine of the Trinity is a fugue or a good piece of counterpoint16.

10This tension – within the literary texture – towards the impossible brings about a continuous renewal of strategies, as Charles J. Rolo states in quoting Huxley:

  • 17 Charles J. Rolo (ed.), The World of Aldous Huxley, New York, 1947, p. xiii.

“I have a literary theory that I must have a two-angled vision of all my characters. Either I try to show them as they feel themselves to be: or else I try to give two rather similar characters who throw light on each other”. This double vision produces a brand of irony that cuts both ways. Usually the ironist intends the opposite of what he states. Huxley often intends both what he states and the opposite, distilling a sharper flavor from the simultaneity17.

  • 18 See Huxley et la musique, p. 397-398.

11This basic quality of character delineation in Huxley applies mutatis mutandis to all his œuvre, including the musico-literary enterprise. However, as the intended musical form cannot be conceived as a separate ready-made mould into which the literary work can be poured, so Huxley’s activity as a novelist should never be severed from his activity as an essayist – no more, for that matter, should either be separated from the correspondence18!

Complexity and Comprehensiveness

  • 19 Most notably: Alex Aronson, Music and the Novel: A Study in Twentieth-Century Fiction, Totowa, 1980
  • 20 Alden D. Kumler’s excellent study of Point Counter Point recognizes the difficulty of perceiving th (...)
  • 21 See Brown, rev., p. 172.
  • 22 See Huxley et la musique, p. 222, n. 80; as well as my “Approches musicales de Charles Dickens,” in (...)

12As for the functions of music in Huxley’s œuvre, there are a number of aspects that have not been investigated adequately so far. It should be stressed first of all that the sheer ‘impressionism’ with which Huxley’s musico-literary enterprise is still at times reproached with today19 fails to do justice to the complexity of the ‘presence’ of music. Psychological aprioris can only abusively simplify the necessarily complex perception of the musical construction of a novel like Point Counter Point. The writer’s task is formidable: he must create – de toutes pièces – the emotive complex and literary construct that is to stand for the absent musical analogue20. No doubt it still remains to be seen if Huxley’s special brand of intellectualism21 has not made him blind to major achievements in the field of fiction, most notably Dickens’s, whose triumphs have actually and paradoxically anticipated in many ways Huxley’s calls for a fiction organized in a more musical way22.

13As regards Huxley’s musico-literary enterprise from “Farcical History” (the first novella) to Island (the last novel), I have shown elsewhere that the description of the Mendelssohnian chord in the first collection of stories is an amazing piece of writing:

  • 23 “Farcical History of Richard Greenow,” Limbo, London, 1950, p. 1-115; p. 32.

G, F, B, and E – he let the notes hang tremulously on the silence, savoured to the full their angelic overtones; then, when the sound of the chord had almost died away, he let it droop reluctantly through D to the simple, triumphal beauty of C natural – the diapason closing full in what was for Dick a wholly ineffable emotion23.

  • 24 IsI, London, 1962, ch. 15, p. 269.

14Equally amazing is the final passage in Island in which there is to be found, as it were, the culmination of Huxley’s reflections on music criticism: “What are you hearing?” [...] “Hearing what I see”, he answered. “And seeing what I hear24”.

  • 25 This idea can already be found in Suzanne Heintz-Friedrich, Aldous Huxley: Entwicklung seiner Metap (...)
  • 26 Most notably Paul Hadermann, “Synästhesie: Stand der Forschung und Begriffs-bestimmung”, in Literat (...)
  • 27 See Georg Anschütz, Das Farbe-Ton-Problem im psychischen Gesamtbereich, Halle, 1929, p. 268, n. 12  (...)
  • 28 Hadermann, p. 69.

15This reveals Huxley’s permanent search for a comprehensiveness in man that is for ever problematic25 and at the same time bears out the findings of recent research on synaesthesia26. In fact, the cumulative effect of the various senses may be studied in earlier Huxleyan writings, for instance in Time Must Have a Stop, where we can find a similar synaesthetic interpretation of silence. Georg Anschütz’s discovery “that there exists an intrinsic dependence between what is heard and what is seen or what is perceived by other senses27” raises a fundamental doubt about the possible existence of a link between the various visible worlds and that of the unseen.28

Searching for the Absolute Reality

  • 29 See the excerpts from The Doors of Perception rebaptized “On Art, Sanity and Mysticism”, in On Art (...)
  • 30 See André Dommergues, “Aldous Huxley épistolier,” Études Anglaises, 26, 4, 1973, p. 425, n. 19.

16While the mystery of all-inclusive, undifferentiated sensory perception, so characteristic of the ultimate passage on music in Island, generally fits in with Huxley’s vision of man, synaesthesia also plays a role in the writer’s inquiry into the visual effects of peyotl. Indeed, the whole problem of the exact bearing of drug taking in Huxley and its relation to the actual experience of music29 (Huxley’s letters deserve further investigation in this respect30) leads up to the autobiographical question. In a letter to Dr Osmond, Huxley asserts the experienced superiority of Bach over other composers when confronted with the experience of drug taking:

  • 31 Letters, London, 1969, p. 779-780.

Evidently, if you are not a congenital or habitual visualizer, you do not get internal visions under mescalin or LSD – only external transfigurations. [...] Time was very different. We played the Bach B-minor suite and the “Musical Offering”, and the experience was overpowering. Other music (e.g. Palestrina and Byrd) seemed unsatisfactory by comparison. Bach was a revelation. The tempo of the pieces did not change; nevertheless, they went on for centuries, and they were a manifestation, on the plane of art, of perpetual creation, a demonstration of the necessity of death and the self-evidence of immortality, an expression of the essential all-rightness of the universe for the music was far beyond tragedy, but included death and suffering with everything else in the divine impartiality which is the One, which is Love, which is Being or Istigkeit. Who on earth was John Sebastian? Certainly not the old gent with sixteen children in a stuffy Protestant environment. Rather, an enormous manifestation of the Other – but the Other canalized, controlled, made available through the intervention of the intellect and the senses and emotions [...]. John Sebastian is safer because, ultimately, truer to reality31.

  • 32 “Aldous Huxley and Music in the 1920’s”, Music and Letters, 64, 1983, p. 1-2, p. 25-36. Hereafter, (...)
  • 33 Aplin, p. 321.

17It is fascinating to speculate upon the link between the writer’s real-life experience and the expression it ultimately found in the writings. John Aplin links the description of the Mendelssohnian chord in “Farcical History” to the “rather curious” way in which the young man played the piano32. Similarly, the birth of the musico-literary analogy is related to the aftermath of his experience of semi-blindness. Witness the columns of the Westminster Gazette33. It is, for instance, tempting to suggest that the highly idiosyncratic construction of Those Barren Leaves – the most autobiographical of Huxley’s novels along with Eyeless in Gaza – was brought about by his studying Braille and Braille music at the same time. Sybille Bedford notes:

  • 34 Biography, I, London, 1973, p. 34-35.

With tough concentration, he taught himself to read Braille and to type on a small portable. He taught himself to play the piano – first with one hand on the Braille page and the other hand on the piano keys; then the other way round: reading with the right, learning to play with the left until he knew both parts by heart34.

  • 35 In HS, p. 188, Huxley describes the commonality of the fundamentals of spatial and temporal arts. I (...)
  • 36 See the whole chapter 2 of Huxley et la musique, “Les séductions du monde sonore ou la quête du sil (...)

18In other words, the progressive cumulative effect of playing one hand first, then the other, finally both together, corresponds to the novelist treating a number of characters first, then another, and finally superimposing them, as is the case in the novel. Indeed, though this is perhaps carrying the analogy too far – the isolated hands searching for symmetry35 – the construction of Those Barren Leaves is of considerable interest in this respect36.

  • 37 Incidentally, it is worth noting that a recent dissertation enquiring into the joint characteristic (...)
  • 38 See R. Bienvenu, rev. « Huxley et la musique », Revue de littérature comparée, special number on Li (...)

19The search for reality, which is also the search for the absolute reality beyond appearances, is symbolized by the quest of the silence beyond the tumult. The novel’s framework is the repeated description of the particular silence perveighing the little town of Vezza, that of tumultuous waters falling down the Apuan mountains. Within this framework the suggestion of the fragmentary – so prominent in the novel (see the part entitled Fragments of an Autobiography) and almost premonitary of the postmodem37 – culminates in the final, and probably ambiguous, image of the shining peak38.

  • 39 See Huxley et la musique, p. 43-44.
  • 40 See ibid., p. 241-265: “Anti-musique ou arabesque vitale?” Most clearly music in Huxley was not inv (...)

20Indeed, not only is one part of the novel entitled “Loves of the parallels” (most emphatically, parallels do not meet), but also in being explicitly labelled “contrapuntal39” conversations remind the reader of ideally related entities that are in sharp contrast both with the sham artistic world of the hostess and the anti-music of the various cacophonies of the novel40.

21As one of the major artistic challenges, harmonization of elements at war brings to the fore the disquieting fact of the existence of cacophonies, both literal and figurative. Like myth, art brings about some mysterious resolution of incompatibles:

It permits the bringing together in the story, the image, the picture, the statue, or the dance of a number of disparate and even apparently incommensurable or incompatible parts of our experience. It brings them together and shows them to be an indissoluble whole, exactly as we experience them. In this sense it is the most profound kind of symbolism (HS, p. 199-200).

Gesualdo

  • 41 AA (London, 1956), 251-273. Hereafter cited by page references in brackets.
  • 42 See Jean-Louis Cupers, “Analyses musicales chez Aldous Huxley et l’idéal de la critique d’art”, Mél (...)
  • 43 See Brown, rev., p. 171: “[…] Formes musicales et structure romanesque [...] deals with the adoptio (...)

22In this context let us now turn to Huxley’s essay on Gesualdo. It is a well-known fact that in the late fifties Huxley undertook a task which required a great deal of preparatory reading, including that of Alfred Einstein’s monumental study of the Italian madrigal. Robert Craft’s invitation to talk at one of the concerts sponsored by the Southern California Chamber Music Society was eventually to become the essay “Gesualdo: Variations on a Musical Theme”, first published in January 195641. In it Huxley discusses how desirable it is to (re)discover the music of our past. Obviously, the musical criticism found scattered throughout Huxley’s essays and novels can serve to help define the aims of his art criticism – an urgent task indeed42, – which would include the re-publication of the sixty-four columns of The Westminster Gazette. But the example of Huxley’s analysis of an Italian madrigal in the essay on Gesualdo is particularly worth examining more closely. It reminds one first of all that the device of musical variation on a theme – one of the musical forms that Huxley sought to approximate in literary terms43 – is relevant both to the genre of fiction – think of the beautiful illustration provided by the novella “Two or Three Graces” – and to the multi-faceted and pliable one of the essay: the free welding together of a given number of (usually conflicting) points of view round a chosen subject.

  • 44 See On Art and Artists, p. 8: “[W]hen a writer tries to render this experience of co-existing incom (...)
  • 45 See “Variations on a Philosopher”, in TV, London, 1954, p. 1-152.
  • 46 Partitura delli sei libri de’madrigali a cinque voci dell’illustrissimo & eccellentissimo Prencipe (...)

23In his essay Huxley looks at his topic in terms of historical, biographical, technical and aesthetic variation44. Yet another example of his attempt to use, in the words of his essay on Maine de Biran45, some sort of “new and more satisfactory method of philosophical exposition – philosophy through the particular existent, abstractions in terms of a concrete experience”, Huxley’s lively account of Gesualdo ends with a detailed and concentrated analysis of Ardita Zanzaretta, thirteenth in the composer’s sixth book of five-part madrigals46.

  • 47 Letter to Edwin Hubble, 30 July 1949, Letters, p. 601.

24Fascinated as he had become by “the problems of the individual’s relations with history and culture – the extent to which a man is in history and out of it, like an iceberg in water47”, Huxley found in Gesualdo’s life and works a particularly congenial subject. In a letter to Humphry Osmond he comments:

  • 48 Letter to Humphry Osmond, 25 September 1955, Letters, 767.

I have undertaken, rather rashly, to talk at one of the Monday evening concerts on the madrigals of Gesualdo (the psychotic prince of Venosa, who murdered his wife and could never go to the bathroom unless he had been previously flagellated) and on the Court of Ferrara, where he developed his utterly amazing musical style [...]. Very strange stuff that makes one marvel at the extraordinary versatility of the human species, capable of practically anything and able to flourish in the most improbable social environment. I always have the feeling, when I read history, or see or listen to or read the greatest works of art, that, if we knew the right way to set about it, we could do things far more strange and lovely than even the strangest and the loveliest of past history48.

  • 49 Alfred Einstein, The Italian Madrigal, II, Princeton, 1971, p. 688-717; p. 713.
  • 50 Basil Hogarth, “Aldous Huxley as Music Critic”, The Musical Times, 1114, December 1935, p.  1079-10 (...)
  • 51 28 October 1922.
  • 52 Letter to Robert Craft, 10 June 1958, Letters, p. 849.

25Einstein, to be true, though he points to existing studies of the composer like Gray’s and Heseltine’s, to Wagnerian chromaticism, and other aspects, merely initiates the possibility of analysing the madrigal in question. He concludes by saying, “As expression this is inimitable, even today49”. Huxley seizes the hint and sets about the task, fully demonstrating once again his ability to act “like an infra-red ray, cutting through the fog of confusion and doubt that far too often surrounds the discussions of the musical art50”. His is the “contrapuntistical ear” of which he speaks in his Westminster Gazette column on Variation51! “Inasmuch as Gesualdo never set a poem, only the individual words and phrases52”, Huxley parallels a literal translation of the nonsense of the text – “a little mosquito (zanzaretta) settles on the bosom of the beloved, bites and gets swatted by the exasperated lady”, and the poet wishes he would enjoy the same fate – with “a description of the music accompanying each phrase” (p. 268-269). Accordingly, he starts his interpretation as follows:

  • 53 The score of the madrigal is reproduced on the following pages from Edition Peters No. 4363 with th (...)

“A bold little mosquito bites the fair breast of her who consumes my heart.” This is set to a piece of pure neutral polyphony, very rapid and, despite its textural richness, very light (p. 269)53.

26But the lady is not content with consuming the lover’s heart; she also keeps it in cruel pain. Here the dancing polyphony of the first bars gives place to a series of chords moving slowly from dissonance to unprepared dissonance. The pain, however unreal in the text, becomes in the music genuinely excruciating.

27Now the mosquito “makes its escape, but rashly flies back to that fair breast which steals my heart away. Whereupon she catches it”. All this is rendered in the same kind of rapid, emotionally neutral polyphony as was heard in the opening bars (p. 269).

28But now comes another change. The lady not only catches the insect, “she squeezes it and gives it death”. The word morte, death, occurs in almost all Gesualdo’s madrigals. Sometimes it carries its literal meaning; more often, however, it is used figuratively, to signify sensual ecstasy, the swoon of love. But this makes no difference to Gesualdo. Whatever its real significance, and whoever it is that may be dying (the lover metaphorically or, in a literal sense, a friend, a mosquito, the crucified Saviour), he gives the word, morte, a musical expression of the most tragic and excruciating kind. For the remorseful assassin, death was evidently the most terrifying of prospects (p. 269-270).

29From the insect’s long-drawn musical martyrdom, we return to cheerfulness and pure polyphony. “To share its happy fate, I too will bite you”. Gesualdo was a pain-loving masochist [– he had himself whipped by a servant especially trained to flog his master –] and this playful suggestion of sadism left him unmoved. The counterpoint glides along in a state of emotional neutrality (p. 270).

30Then comes a passage of chromatic yearning on the words, “my beloved, my precious one”.

31Then polyphony again. “And if you catch and squeeze me…” (p. 270).

32After this, the music becomes unadulterated Gesualdo. There is a cry of pain – ahi! – and then “I will swoon away and, upon that fair breast, taste delicious poison” (p. 270).

33After this remarkable specimen of practical music criticism, the reader may feel inclined to approve of Huxley’s introductory characterization of this madrigal:

  • 54 See J.-C., Cupers, “Analyses musicales chez Aldous Huxley et l’idéal de la critique d’art” (cf. cha (...)

This extraordinary little masterpiece compresses into less than three minutes every mood from the cheerfully indifferent to the perversely voluptuous, from the gay to the tragic, and in the process employs every musical resource, from traditional polyphony to Wagner-gone-wrong chromaticism and the strangest harmonic progressions, from galloping rhythms to passages of long, suspended notes54.

34Indeed, to analyse this “setting of half a dozen lines of doggerel” (p. 268), Huxley uses the concepts, the vocabulary and the tools of the musicologist. In applying to the aesthetic object the methods developed elsewhere, i.e., in the history of art, Huxley both advocates and illustrates the need of historical research in music. Huxley assisted in translating the Italian text of most of the madrigals selected for the Columbia record devoted to the master. He even translated the important document contained in Count Alfonso Fontanelli’s letter to Alfonso II, Duke of Ferrara, who had sent Fontanelli – himself a musician – to report on Gesualdo, then on his way to Ferrara in order to meet the Duke’s daughter, Donna Eleonora d’Este.

35Why is it, wonders Huxley (way back in 1956!), that Renaissance music has remained a terra incognita when Renaissance poetry, painting or sculpture have been studied in the minutest detail? So much so that the history of music is a striking example of our failure to explore “our own back yard” (p. 251). Until recently, Huxley continues, hardly anyone had heard music prior to the end of the seventeenth century! Even a Burckhardt was relatively unaware of this aspect of the realization of our past, which was in no way inferior to the other branches of Renaissance art:

One can say without any exaggeration that, until very recent times, more was known about the Fourth Dynasty Egyptians who built the pyramids, than about the Flemish and Italian contemporaries of Shakespeare who wrote the madrigals (p. 252-253).

36Only little by little does one begin to realize that “the three centuries before Bach are just as interesting, musically speaking, as the two centuries after Bach” (p. 253).

Conclusion

  • 55 See Huxley et la musique, p. 341-342.

37All in all, we have seen that the ironical juxtaposition of divergent discourses and the contradiction within the various discourses chosen, which makes our evidence vibrate until they fall apart, constitute Huxley’s favourite stratagem, that of interweaving two, indeed more than just two, threads, each designed to reveal both the lacunae and the stronger points of the other. Perhaps the needle scratching the revolving disc in the now pregnant silence – the Point Counter Point image that comes back in the last chapter of Island – is not Huxley’ s last word, after all. Is the music illusion, as Spandrell wonders, or profoundest truth55?

38Nowhere was the tantalizing question arising out of the realization that men are the inhabitants not of one universe but of a multitude of universes put more clearly and more urgently than in the 1940 essay Words and Their Meanings:

  • 56 Los Angeles, 1940, p. 11.

They are able to move at will from the world, say, of atomic physics to the world of art, from the universe of discourse called ‘chemistry’ to the universe of discourse called “ethics”. Between these various universes philosophy and science have not as yet succeeded in constructing any bridges. How, for example, is an electron, or a chemical molecule, or even a living cell related to the G Minor quintet of Mozart or the mystical theology of St. John of the Cross? Frankly, we don’t know56.

  • 57 Huxley adduces another instance, that of Schütz: “Most of his adult life was spent in running away (...)

39The need to reconcile the antagonistic notions of art as remote from life and of art as an expression of life is also evident in the lives of the artists themselves57.

40The notion of the bridge builder, so prominent in later writings, is only one among the many questions that have to be addressed with regard to the general topic of music in Huxley. At the heart of the writer’s quest is the fundamental enquiry into man’s relation with men and with the universe. Huxley’s critical and fictional writings are ultimately linked in their concern about the pontifex maximus who will build the bridge between all the universes of all our discourses. In this light, then, there is, indeed, no end to discovering the interrelations between the various aspects of music.

41It would be relatively easy, for example, to show how the function of music in specific works like “Young Archimedes” in the 1924 collection of stories entitled Little Mexican is connected with both preceding and subsequent writings touching music in one way or another. Less obvious perhaps, but no less interesting, would be the gradual discovery of the subtle ways in which practically all subsequent components of the experience of music as they appear in Huxley’ s œuvre seen in their entirety make their first appearance in early works.

42It is indeed fascinating to realize that the “Farcical History of Richard Greenow” actually anticipates a number of points of view in which music will be subsequently envisaged. One finds in it already – in addition to the implicit musical analogy, the notion of “like music” inherent in the description of the chord already mentioned – glimpses of the musical chapel episode of Antic Hay (“Farcical History,” p. 25-26), the remarkable insistence on characters’ voices in Crome Yellow (p. 84-85), the rhythmical rendering of noises turned articulate so typical of Eyeless in Gaza (p. 55 or p. 90), the pseudo-aesthetic values of Mrs Aldwinkle in Those Barren Leaves (p. 80), the all-important distinction between real appreciation of music and pretence as found in the Crome Yellow episode when Denis is caught playing the piano and refuses to play any further (p. 24-25), not to forget what is perhaps – for its brevity and its remarkable integration into the plot – the most successful contrapuntal scene in Huxley, the final falling-to-pieces of the anti-hero (p. 110-115), mixed as it is with the notion of essential horror that pervades famous scenes in Point Counter Point or Island’s last chapter. Vice versa, the latter offers some sort of cumulative point of view from which to approach all preceding writings. Not only does Island harp back on themes like the tragic turned ludicrous (the Œdipus in Pala passage) or come back one more time on the notion of simultaneity of irrelevances (thus “farcical” and, reminiscent of Those Barren Leaves, the terms “accompanied by, contrapuntal to”, actually occur in chapter 7 [Island, p. 97, p. 104]) – but it would also be possible to put side by side the parallels in a way that sheds new light on such a relationship. The unexpected “Do you like music?” of Dr. Robert’s in chapter 9 is a clear echo of Denis’s “Then I couldn’t possibly go on” in Crome Yellow (Island, p. 138; CY, ch. 6, p. 29)!

  • 58 See for instance Bernard Bergonzi, in Pat Rogers (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of English L (...)
  • 59 Brown, rev., p. 172.

43For all the admiration that it has become almost traditional to lavish58 on the Huxleyan fiction of the twenties – incidentally and not insignificantly Huxley’s great ‘musical’ decade! – a fundamental problem remains. It may seem, as Calvin S. Brown argues, that “despite their interest and complexity in the inevitable and unprovable hierarchy of art none of Huxley’s works comes close to the level of things like Beethoven’s Op. 111 and Op. 132, which inspired them and which they apparently sought to emulate. Why? It seems to me that it is because they are too exclusively intellectual, even when mystical. The characters are interesting and amusing, but we do not enter into them as human beings or ever really care what happens to them59”.

44In view of this difficulty the critic ought to try and stick to the strict confines of his own formal object. Indeed, oversimplifications, not to say gross misrepresentations, still mar a number of critical writings on the subject of music and literature in Huxley (not least perhaps because of the present age’s tendency to look down on the genre of the essay or – what comes down to the same thing – to ignore it by and large within an almost exclusive concern for so-called Belles-Lettres). It is still too early to pass a judgement on Huxley’s achievements and many-faceted influence: his role as an initiator in particular cannot be overestimated. Coming up in the early twenties against the lures and pitfalls of a fascinating subject, Huxley has been an extraordinarily lucid pioneer in the field until the end of his career.

  • 60 See my “À la croisée des chemins: musique, éthique et psychanalyse”, in Variations sur l’éthique, B (...)

45“Not just a mere pattern of sound” (HS, p. 196): the few lines about music with which Huxley concludes his lecture on art at Santa Barbara on 7 November 1959 repeat his long-standing conviction about “the most difficult of all the arts” (HS, p. 195). Beyond Romantic irony (paradoxically, good music says more because it talks less, disclosing that which articulate discourse tends to dissimulate) and the symbolist realization of the genuine commonality of the two arts, Huxley’s musico-literary enterprise is aware of the structural potentialities of the art discovered by modernism while at the same time implying that music understood as a science still to be constructed may constitute the highest mystery for the sciences of man to solve, the ultimate paradigm of an ideal which it is impossible to achieve, but which is nonetheless necessary60.

  • 61 Keith May, Aldous Huxley, London, 1972, p. 226.
  • 62 Hogarth, p. 1079.

46One cannot “be taken as promoting Huxley beyond his merits61” if one endorses the view that, indeed, “Aldous Huxley is, in some respects, the most remarkable literary man who has ever written on musical subjects62”.

  • 63 TMHS, ch. 25, p. 227-228; lines re-arranged.

Out there, in here,
the silence shone with a blue, imploring
tenderness63.

Notes

1 Patrick Brady, Comparative Literature, 45, 4, 1993, p. 390. The reference is to Wilda Anderson’s Diderot‘s Dream, Baltimore/London, 1990.

2 See George Wickes/Ray Frazer, “Aldous Huxley” (interview), Writers at Work: The “Paris Review” Interviews, 2nd Series, ed. George Plimpton, New York, 1963, p. 200.

3 Alexander Henderson, Aldous Huxley, London, 1964; 1935, p. 81.

4 See Jean-Louis Cupers, Aldous Huxley et la musique. À la manière de Jean-Sébastien, Bruxelles, 1985, p. 15-16; p. 270. Hereafter, Huxley et la musique.

5 Huxley et la musique, p. 250-251.

6 See Calvin S. Brown, rev. “Huxley et la musique”, Comparative Literature, 39, 2, 1987, p. 170-172; 170. Hereafter, Brown, rev.

7 Letter to Jean-Louis Cupers of 30 October 1985.

8 See Calvin S. Brown, Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts, Hanover/London, 1987, p. 211. See also Steven P. Scher, Verbal Music in German Literature, New Haven/London, 1968, p. 8, and its sequel “Toward a Theory of Verbal Music”, Comparative Literature, 22, 2, 1970, p. 149-150.

9 TMHS, ch. 17, p. 170: “[…] the blueness brightened up towards a purer incandescence, the music modulated from significance through heightened significance into the ultimate perfection of silence”; ch. 28, 257: “[...] Eustace was aware, once again, of that blue shining stillness. Delicate, unutterably beautiful, like the essence of all skies and flowers, like the silent principle and potentiality of all music”.

10 Original preface to J.-L. Cupers, Ulrich Weisstein (ed.), Musico-Poetics Today: Calvin S. Brown in Memoriam, Amsterdam/Atlanta, Rodopi, 2000. See the beginning of chapter 3, par. 4 (“Tensions et ambiguïtés”) for a French translation of the quotation.

11 HS, London, 1977, p. 195.

12 See Aldous Huxley, “Faith, Taste and History,” in: AA (London, 1956), 232: “[...] the fundamental tendencies of professionals in one of the arts may be at variance with the fundamental tendencies of professionals in other arts”.

13 Huxley et la musique, p. 292-294.

14 Calvin S. Brown, “Aspects méthodologiques de l’approche musico-littéraire”, in Jean-Louis Cupers (ed.), Euterpe et Harpocrate ou le défi littéraire de la musique, Bruxelles, 1988, p. 9-10 (my translation).

15 Significantly there is only one – minimal – instance of this in the whole of Huxley’s œuvre (except for the sketch of a pianist in one of his early letters)! This instance is to be found in Jesting Pilate, see Huxley et la musique, p. 106-111.

16 Aldous Huxley, On Art and Artists, ed. Morris Philipson, London, 1960, p. 7.

17 Charles J. Rolo (ed.), The World of Aldous Huxley, New York, 1947, p. xiii.

18 See Huxley et la musique, p. 397-398.

19 Most notably: Alex Aronson, Music and the Novel: A Study in Twentieth-Century Fiction, Totowa, 1980.

20 Alden D. Kumler’s excellent study of Point Counter Point recognizes the difficulty of perceiving the link between the two. See his Aldous Huxley’s Novel of Ideas (unpubl. diss., Univ. of Michigan, 1956), p. 95-176.

21 See Brown, rev., p. 172.

22 See Huxley et la musique, p. 222, n. 80; as well as my “Approches musicales de Charles Dickens,” in: Littérature et musique, ed. Raphael Celis, Bruxelles, 1982, p. 49, n. 83, for a number of analogies. See chapter 8 in this volume (“Approches musicales”), n. 83.

23 “Farcical History of Richard Greenow,” Limbo, London, 1950, p. 1-115; p. 32.

24 IsI, London, 1962, ch. 15, p. 269.

25 This idea can already be found in Suzanne Heintz-Friedrich, Aldous Huxley: Entwicklung seiner Metaphysik, Bern, 1949. See also Charles M. Holmes, Aldous Huxley and the Way to Reality, Bloomington, 1970.

26 Most notably Paul Hadermann, “Synästhesie: Stand der Forschung und Begriffs-bestimmung”, in Literatur und bildende Kunst: Ein Handbuch zur Theorie und Praxis eines komparatistischen Grenzgebietes, ed. Ulrich Weisstein, Berlin, 1992, p. 54-72 (original text in Synesthésie et rencontre des arts, Bruxelles, 2011, p. 83-129). Hereafter, Hadermann.

27 See Georg Anschütz, Das Farbe-Ton-Problem im psychischen Gesamtbereich, Halle, 1929, p. 268, n. 12 (editor’s translation), where the author states that “zwischen Gehörtem und Gesehenem oder Inhalten aus anderen Sinnesgebieten das Verhältnis innerer Abhängigkeit besteht”. Quoted by Hadermann, p. 59.

28 Hadermann, p. 69.

29 See the excerpts from The Doors of Perception rebaptized “On Art, Sanity and Mysticism”, in On Art and Artists, p. 98-116; also Huxley et la musique, p. 251, n. 53.

30 See André Dommergues, “Aldous Huxley épistolier,” Études Anglaises, 26, 4, 1973, p. 425, n. 19.

31 Letters, London, 1969, p. 779-780.

32 “Aldous Huxley and Music in the 1920’s”, Music and Letters, 64, 1983, p. 1-2, p. 25-36. Hereafter, Aplin. See also the testimonies of Margaret Huxley or Naomi Mitchison, Huxley et la musique, p. 271, n. 7; p. 38, n. 16; p. 45, notes 64-65.

33 Aplin, p. 321.

34 Biography, I, London, 1973, p. 34-35.

35 In HS, p. 188, Huxley describes the commonality of the fundamentals of spatial and temporal arts. In the same way that the symbols used by visual artists “have a relationship with patterns occurring in the external world” (for instance bilateral or radial symmetry versus asymmetry), “we find that natural rhythms are used in temporal symbols. After all, in all forms of temporal art (poetry, drama, narrative, dancing, music) we find the same elementary symbols being used: repetitions, variations on a theme, rhythms of a more or less circular nature, or rhythms proceeding, so to speak, in a straight or an undulating line. Analogies of all these are found in nature. The movement of the heavenly bodies, the cycle of growth, the rhythms of breathing, of heart activity, of peristalsis, and so on, and the more irregular rhythms such as hunger and satisfaction, all find their analogy in the various arts which contain an element of time”. See Huxley et la musique, p. 212-217.

36 See the whole chapter 2 of Huxley et la musique, “Les séductions du monde sonore ou la quête du silence”, p. 49-75, in particular p. 72-75.

37 Incidentally, it is worth noting that a recent dissertation enquiring into the joint characteristics of the postmodern in literature and in music contains a questionnaire enumerating virtually all possible features of the concept, and that these are all to be found in a novel like Those Barren Leaves! See Kurt de Boodt, De metronoom van Foucault: Een confrontatie tussen het discours over het postmodernisme in de muziek en de literair-theoretische opvattingen (“Foucault’s Metronome: Confronting Postmodernist Discourse in Music and Literary Theory”, doctoral thesis, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1992).

38 See R. Bienvenu, rev. « Huxley et la musique », Revue de littérature comparée, special number on Literature and Music, ed. Francis Claudon, 61, 3, 1987, p. 406-407.

39 See Huxley et la musique, p. 43-44.

40 See ibid., p. 241-265: “Anti-musique ou arabesque vitale?” Most clearly music in Huxley was not invariably, as some would have us believe, ‘a source of positive value.’ It is a highly significant fact that the real music in Brave New World is – literally and metaphorically – Shakespeare, whereas the actual music of the Brave New World is labelled synthetic!

41 AA (London, 1956), 251-273. Hereafter cited by page references in brackets.

42 See Jean-Louis Cupers, “Analyses musicales chez Aldous Huxley et l’idéal de la critique d’art”, Mélanges de musicologie, I, 1974, p. 12-26. Cf. chapter 11 in this volume) See also Huxley’s lecture on art in HS, p. 182-197.

43 See Brown, rev., p. 171: “[…] Formes musicales et structure romanesque [...] deals with the adoption of or approximation to various musical structures (rondo, variations, fugue, and counterpoint generally) in Huxley’s novels”.

44 See On Art and Artists, p. 8: “[W]hen a writer tries to render this experience of co-existing incompatibles, he is forced, by the very nature of language, to adopt a strategy, not of chords or of counterpoint, but of melodic modulation. Debarred from saying several different things at once, he must, willy-nilly, say them successively”.

45 See “Variations on a Philosopher”, in TV, London, 1954, p. 1-152.

46 Partitura delli sei libri de’madrigali a cinque voci dell’illustrissimo & eccellentissimo Prencipe di Venosa, D. Carlo Gesualdo, Venosa, Pavoni, 1613.

47 Letter to Edwin Hubble, 30 July 1949, Letters, p. 601.

48 Letter to Humphry Osmond, 25 September 1955, Letters, 767.

49 Alfred Einstein, The Italian Madrigal, II, Princeton, 1971, p. 688-717; p. 713.

50 Basil Hogarth, “Aldous Huxley as Music Critic”, The Musical Times, 1114, December 1935, p.  1079-1082. Hereafter, Hogarth.

51 28 October 1922.

52 Letter to Robert Craft, 10 June 1958, Letters, p. 849.

53 The score of the madrigal is reproduced on the following pages from Edition Peters No. 4363 with the kind permission of C. F. Peters, Leipzig.

54 See J.-C., Cupers, “Analyses musicales chez Aldous Huxley et l’idéal de la critique d’art” (cf. chapter 11) and “L’approche du musicologue”, in Huxley et la musique, p. 269-288.

55 See Huxley et la musique, p. 341-342.

56 Los Angeles, 1940, p. 11.

57 Huxley adduces another instance, that of Schütz: “Most of his adult life was spent in running away from the recurrent horrors of the Thirty Years’ War. But the changes and chances of a discontinuous existence left no corresponding traces upon his work. Whether at Dresden or in Italy, in Denmark or at Dresden again, he went on drawing the artistically logical conclusions from the premises formulated under Gabrieli at Venice and gradually modified, through the years, by his own successive achievements and the achievements of his contemporaries and juniors. Man is a whole, but a whole with an astounding capacity for living, simultaneously or successively, in watertight compartments”. “Faith, Taste and History”, in AA, p. 237.

58 See for instance Bernard Bergonzi, in Pat Rogers (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of English Literature, Oxford, 1987, 428: “[...] his early novels remain admirably light-hearted, witty and readable […]”.

59 Brown, rev., p. 172.

60 See my “À la croisée des chemins: musique, éthique et psychanalyse”, in Variations sur l’éthique, Bruxelles, 1994, n. 23. See chapter 14 in this volume, p. 247 sq.

61 Keith May, Aldous Huxley, London, 1972, p. 226.

62 Hogarth, p. 1079.

63 TMHS, ch. 25, p. 227-228; lines re-arranged.

© Presses universitaires de Provence, 2019

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search