Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Elswhere on the web... A Man Comes Back to Life in a City of Death

Image from the site of Phil Douglis - check out his many lovely photos

Since I could not be less inspired this morning I thought I would send you over to John Coulthart's place for his lovely post on Bruges la Morte, Georges Rodenbach's late 19th century novel which is a symbolist study of the psychology of grief. It is set in Bruges - a small, ashen -colored, gothic town in Belgium, built on a set of canals. The photo at the top of the post is of Bruges. The town specializes in chocolate (as most of Belgium does) and lace, which creates an interesting juxtaposition. As one walks down the streets that are eternally in shadows because of their narrowness or their nearness to the cathedral, the shop windows are sparking with their displays of chocolate and lace. If you visit, there is a 15th century castle of the princes of Burgundy which now serves as a very affordable B&B. I hope you sleep soundly. It is haunted. Everyone at the sumptuously laid breakfast table the next morning had circles under their eyes.

One of my chief reasons for linking you to JC's lovely post on Bruges la Morte - a truly under-appreciated work - is that it is the basis for Erich Korngold's 1920 opera Die Tote Stadt - an equally under-appreciated work. I know it sounds like a downer - it's not. The score is juicily romantic and the story combines compassion and imagination. It's one of my favorites. It's little surprise that Korngold, as a compatriot of Freud in early twentieth century Vienna, was drawn to this strikingly psychological story. Korngold lived in the bubbling cauldron of scientific/ philosophical/artistic change that was post-World War I Vienna. Though he was also a contemporary of Schoenberg's and his music is undoubtedly modern, it is much more accessible and tonal. If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend checking out a recording of Die Tote Stadt. I still think that the first one is best. Sadly, there is no video of Frank Corsaro's grand production with Ronald Chase's projections enveloping the entire stage.

Korngold was a child prodigy who fled Austria when the Nazis rose to power and ended up in Hollywood writing film scores - the work for which he is best known. His story is an interesting one. The very good biography I link to must be out of print and is pricey, but your library may also have a copy.

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