Monday, November 29, 2010

K.550 (1788); Anthony Burgess superimposes "Mozart" and "Sex with the Sun King"

In "K.550 (1788)" by Anthony Burgess all four movements of the Mozart G minor symphony are used to mark attitudes or events from the relationship between Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette. I wrote an introductory blog entry about this here.

The first movement of the symphony harmonizes the story of the complex sexual consummation between the young lovers. Legend has it that they were unable to make love on the wedding night itself; and these things were of interest to the population and the paparazzi in a way that seems cruel but also very modern.

The Burgess "first movement" begins by focusing on Louis XIV. The opening section of the text is printed here.



Burgess imagines Louis pacing back and forth on the carpet as the music begins. He occasionally imitates melodic rhythms in the text as in "He himself, he himself, he himself trod," and often used musical developmental techniques and transformations in the sound of the text itself.

During the transition [0:34] Louis moves from his room to stand outside the door of Marie Antoinette. He is foiled: "Assert assert insert key. By foul magic wrong key. Not his key." Burgess riffs on the key to the door through the musical key of B-flat to which the symphony travels. B-flat major, key of the second theme group, will be the key of Antoinette.

The second theme group [2:04] is all about Antoinette. "SHE in room drinks off chocolate. She in bed still. Full sun catches elegant body." Alan Shockley remarked that the use of gender to describe sonata theme groups was a common practice. Here the second theme group describes only the female character.

Burgess steps outside his story to remark "Repeat all. To here." He has marked the repeat of the exposition [2:04] in his text. It is clever because the events he describes, the frustrations and contrasts in attitudes of the characters were repeated over weeks according to tradition.

The development section begins next [4:06]. The important thing to understand is that in Mozart's lifetime the word development was not in common use. At that time the section was most often called "Fantasia." Burgess sets the section as a mental fantasy of sex. And, because the music of this section is related only to themes from the first theme group--Burgess sets the text as "his" fantasy:

"Not repeat. He himself he himself he himself treads. As sun retreats (not satin sheets, not wool coverlet), as son of sun king dreams, late abed, of cowering. He himself he himself he him¬self sneers, transferred to violent darkness, asserts and hurts. He burns, he rips, claims loins. Lionlike claims he. Nay, see him now split, into he himself and he himself. Appalled, he himself asserting stasis (Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Xenophon set in busts’ frigidity — who says fragility? What voice in xenophone shrieks frangibility?), the parterre and shaved lawn, the semipiternal elms set in sempiternal order, the rents in good gold pieces (gold is always the key, but we shift now from key to key, stasis gone under, silk rent for the better fraction), sees he himself himself transformed as lust thrusts out trust. Untrussed he lustfully lustily thrusts. Hot iron slaked. She herself not there but transformed to palpable scream beneath. Teeth grind, grip. Faces at windows peer in horror, in horror fists at doors knock. All shed, what no shed shredded. Of loins lawfully possessed. Stone lioness on parterre parturiates. He himself observing he himself appalled. The sun sackcloth hides shamed face in willed darkness. He thrusts and floods. Flood floods nether caves.
Not so. Not yet. Not ever yet."

The recapitulation [5:24] is parallel to the exposition but modified to reflect changes made by Mozart.

The transition [5:56] no longer modulates to Antoinette's key but stays in the key of Louis: in G minor. "By bright magic right key. Yes, his key." Louis is in the room [6:37] and finally consummates the marriage; "Bare skin on bare skin slides, glides. Burn, lips. Loins conjoin."

The brief codetta [7:43] is set as another joining: now instead of he or she it is "they:"

"They two, now one, confront chill winds. They themselves, they themselves, they themselves tread bare boards, uncarpeted, unrugged, and the polished planks disclosed as wormgnawed, and beneath them a darkness not of the coupling pair made one but of the disorder which strikes the assertive chords of a pretense of order."

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