Games for Three

A minimalist, modern rendering by Léon Bakst for Costume Study for Jeux. Watercolor, graphite and black chalk on laid paper. Credit: National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

 

Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky and Ludmilla Schollar in Jeux

 

Jeux (Games) is the last work for orchestra written by Claude Debussy. Described as a “poème dansé” (literally a “danced poem”), it was originally intended to accompany a ballet and was written for the Ballets Russes of Sergei Diaghilev to choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky.

Jeux premiered on 15 May 1913 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris, conducted by Pierre Monteux. The work was not well received and was soon eclipsed by Igor Stravinsky‘s The Rite of Spring, which was premiered two weeks later by Diaghilev’s company.

According to Nijinsky’s Diaries, made during the weeks before his psychological breakdown, Diaghilev intended the music to describe a homosexual encounter between three young men, and Nijinsky wanted to include an airplane crash. The final version of the story involved a man, two girls, and a game of tennis. The scenario was described to the audience at the premiere as follows:

“The scene is a garden at dusk; a tennis ball has been lost; a boy and two girls are searching for it. The artificial light of the large electric lamps shedding fantastic rays about them suggests the idea of childish games: they play hide and seek, they try to catch one another, they quarrel, they sulk without cause. The night is warm, the sky is bathed in pale light; they embrace. But the spell is broken by another tennis ball thrown in mischievously by an unknown hand. Surprised and alarmed, the boy and girls disappear into the nocturnal depths of the garden.”

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Evoking The Afternoon of A Faun

“Nijinsky has never been so remarkable as in his latest role. No more jumps – nothing but half-conscious animal gestures and poses. He lies down, leans on his elbow, walks with bent knees, draws himself up, advancing and retreating, some-times slowly, sometimes with jerky angular movements. His eyes flicker, he stretches his arms, he opens his hands out flat, the fingers together, and as he turns away his head he continues to express his desire with a deliberate awkwardness that seems natural. Form and meaning are indissolubly wedded in his body, which is totally expressive of the mind within… His beauty is that of antique frescoes and sculptures: he is the ideal model, whom one longs to draw and sculpt.”

Auguste Rodin

 

Programme illustration by Léon Bakst for the ballet

 

The ballet L’Après-midi d’un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun)was choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky for the Ballets Russes and first performed in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 29 May 1912. On the opening night the ballet was met with a mixture of applause and booing, and again it was repeated. Now the audience applauded, and Auguste Rodin in the audience stood up to cheer.

Nijinsky danced the main part himself. As its score it used the Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune by Claude Debussy. Both the music and the ballet were inspired by the poem L’Après-midi d’un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé. The painter Odilon Redon, friend of Mallarmé, suggested how much the poet would have approved, “more than anyone, he would have appreciated this wonderful evocation of his thoughts.”

 

 

The costumes and sets were designed by the painter Léon BakstL’Après-midi d’un Faune is considered one of the first modern ballets and proved to be as controversial as Nijinsky’s Jeux (1913) and Le Sacre du printemps (1913).

The style of the ballet, in which a young faun meets several nymphs, flirts with them and chases them, was deliberately archaic. In the original scenography designed by Léon Bakst, the dancers were presented as part of a large tableau, a staging reminiscent of an ancient Greek vase painting. They often moved across the stage in profile as if on a bas relief. The ballet was presented in bare feet and rejected classical formalism. The work had an overtly erotic subtext beneath its façade of Greek antiquity, ending with a scene of graphic sexual desire.

The ballet was developed as a possible new production for the Ballets Russes founded by Sergei Diaghilev. Most of the dances performed by the company were choreographed by Michel Fokine, who had worked as a choreographer with the Imperial Russian Ballet, from which all the different specialists for the new ballet company had come. Initially the Ballet Russes took advantage of the 3 months summer break, when the Imperial ballet closed and its staff were free to do other things, to stage ballet and opera in Paris. Diaghilev was looking around for an alternative to the style which Fokine customarily delivered and decided to allow his senior male dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, to try his hand at choreography.

 

Menelaus intending to strike Helen is struck by her beauty instead. Louvre museum, Campana collection acquired 1861

 

The original idea was developed by Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Bakst and was inspired by the artwork on ancient Greek vases and Egyptian and Assyrian frescoes which they viewed in the Louvre museum. Bakst had already worked with Vsevolod Meyerhold, an innovative theatre producer and director who had introduced concepts like two-dimensionality, stylized postures, a narrow stage, pauses and pacing to emphasise significant moments, into his productions. Ninjinsky’s aim was to reproduce the stylised look of the ancient artworks on the stage. In his portrayal of the faun, Nijinsky managed to reproduce exactly the figure of a satyr shown on Greek vases in the Louvre. Such concepts appear transferred to ballet.

Jean Cocteau helped to explain the Mallarmé poem (Nijinsky spoke little French) and with developing a scenario for the ballet. The music by Debussy already existed in a fully orchestrated form. After the summer season in Paris, Nijinsky returned to St Petersburg for the new Russian season and there started to work on the choreography with the help of his sister, Bronislava Nijinska, who was herself a senior dancer and who later choreographed her own ballets for Ballets Russes. Nijinsky was much excited about the project.

 

Cartoon by Daniel de Losques published in Le Figaro, 30 May 1912

 

Nijinsky as the Faun, illustrations by George Barbier, 1913

 

Baron de Meyer  published a book of photographs of the ballet

 

The nymph dance in the dream sequence of the film Sunnyside (Charlie Chaplin, 1919) has been recognized as being a tribute to the ballet

 

A pastiche of the ballet (choreographed by the then leader of the Royal Ballet, Wayne Eagling, a friend of Mercury who had helped him before with the choreography of the Bohemian Rhapsody) forms part of the music video for Queen’s single I Want to Break Free (David Mallet, 1984). Freddie Mercury dances the role of the faun, with dancers from the Royal Ballet also performing, including Jeremy Sheffield. Mercury shaved his trademark moustache to portray Vaslav Nijinsky as a faun in the ballet L’après-midi d’un faune.

 

Queen’s video can be seen on The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

A Free Illustration of Mallarmé’s Beautiful Poem

 

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, known in English as Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, is a symphonic poem for orchestra by Claude Debussy, approximately 10 minutes in duration. It was first performed in Paris on December 22, 1894, conducted by Gustave Doret.

The composition was inspired by the poem L’après-midi d’un faune by Stéphane Mallarmé. Debussy’s work later provided the basis for the ballet Afternoon of a Faun, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. It is one of Debussy’s most famous works and is considered a turning point in the history of music; Pierre Boulez has said he considers the score to be the beginning of modern music, observing that “the flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music.” It is a work that barely grasps onto tonality and harmonic function.

About his composition Debussy wrote:

 

“ The music of this prelude is a very free illustration of Mallarmé’s beautiful poem. By no means does it claim to be a synthesis of it. Rather there is a succession of scenes through which pass the desires and dreams of the faun in the heat of the afternoon. Then, tired of pursuing the timorous flight of nymphs and naiads, he succumbs to intoxicating sleep, in which he can finally realize his dreams of possession in universal Nature.”

 

Paul Valéry reported that Mallarmé himself was unhappy with his poem being used as the basis for music: “He believed that his own music was sufficient, and that even with the best intentions in the world, it was a veritable crime as far as poetry was concerned to juxtapose poetry and music, even if it were the finest music there is.”

However, Maurice Dumesnil states in his biography of Debussy that Mallarmé was enchanted by Debussy’s composition, citing a short letter from Mallarmé to Debussy that read: “I have just come out of the concert, deeply moved. The marvel! Your illustration of The Afternoon of a Faun, which presents a dissonance with my text only by going much further, really, into nostalgia and into light, with finesse, with sensuality, with richness. I press your hand admiringly, Debussy. Yours, Mallarmé.”

The opening flute solo is one of the most famous passages in the orchestral repertoire, consisting of a chromatic descent to a tritone below the original pitch, and the subsequent ascent.

To listen to this Debussy’s composition, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style‘s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Tales of Mystery and Imagination

Cover artwork by Storm Thorgerson

 
 

The Catapult of Desert, René Magritte, 1926

 
 

Booklet

 
 

 Rind, M.C. Escher, 1955

 
 

LP featuring alternate artwork inspired by M.C. Escher

 
 

Tales of Mystery and Imagination Edgar Allan Poe, is the debut album by the progressive rock group The Alan Parsons Project, released in 1976. The lyrical and musical themes – retellings of horror stories and poetry by Edgar Allan Poe — attracted a cult audience. The title of the album is taken from a popular title for a collection of Poe’s macabre tales of the same name, Tales of Mystery & Imagination, first published in 1908 and reprinted many times since.

Musicians featured on the album include vocalists Arthur Brown of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown on The Tell Tale Heart and Terry Sylvester of The Hollies on To One In Paradise. The complete line-up of bands Ambrosia and Pilot play on the record, along with keyboardist Francis Monkman of Curved Air and Sky.

The Raven features actor Leonard Whiting on lead vocals, with Alan Parsons performing vocals through an EMI vocoder. According to the album’s liner notes, The Raven was the first rock song to feature a digital vocoder.

The Prelude section of The Fall of the House of Usher, although uncredited, is inspired by the opera fragment La chute de la maison Usher by Claude Debussy which was composed between 1908 and 1917. The Fall of the House of Usher is an instrumental suite which runs 16 minutes plus and takes up most of Side 2 of the recording.

Critical reaction to the album was mixed; for example, Rolling Stone’s Billy Altman concluded that it did not completely accurately reproduce Poe’s tension and macabre fear, ending by claiming that “devotees of Gothic literature will have to wait for someone with more of the macabre in their blood for a truer musical reading of Poe’s often terrifying works”.

Nevertheless in July 2010, the album was named as one of Classic Rock magazine’s “50 Albums That Built Prog Rock”.

In 1987, Parsons completely remixed the album, including additional guitar passages and narration (by Orson Welles) as well as updating the production style to include heavy reverb and the gated reverb snare drum sound, which was popular in the 1980s. The CD notes that Welles never met Parsons or Eric Woolfson, but sent a tape to them of the performance shortly after the album was manufactured in 1976.

The first passage narrated by Welles on the 1987 remix (which comes before the first track, A Dream Within a Dream) is sourced from an obscure nonfiction piece by Poe – No XVI of his Marginalia (from 1845 to 1849 Edgar Allan Poe titled some of his reflections and fragmentary material Marginalia.) The second passage Welles reads (which comes before The Fall of the House of Usher (Prelude), seems to be a partial paraphrase or composite from nonfiction by Poe, chiefly from a collection of poems titled Poems of Youth by Poe (contained in Introduction to Poems – 1831 in a section titled “Letter to Mr. B———–“; the “Shadows of shadows passing” part of the quote comes from the Marginalia.

Pierced by Arrows

Anonymous Nuremberg (XV cent) : St Sebastian (c. 1440). Bibilothèque Nationale (Paris, France). Woodcut.

 
 

Saint Sebastian is commonly depicted in art and literature tied to a post or tree and shot with arrows. This is the most common artistic depiction of Sebastian; however, according to legend, he was rescued and healed by Irene of Rome. Sometimes Sebastian is known as the saint who was martyred twice.

The earliest representation of Sebastian is a mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo (Ravenna, Italy) dated between 527 and 565. The right lateral wall of the basilica contains large mosaics representing a procession of 26 martyrs, led by Saint Martin and including Sebastian. The martyrs are represented in Byzantine style, lacking any individuality, and have all identical expressions.

As protector of potential plague victims (a connection popularized by the Golden Legend) and soldiers, Sebastian occupied an important place in the popular medieval mind. He was among the most frequently depicted of all saints by Late Gothic and Renaissance artists, in the period after the Black Death. The opportunity to show a semi-nude male, often in a contorted pose, also made Sebastian a favourite subject.

 
 

His shooting with arrows was the subject of the largest engraving by the Master of the Playing Cards in the 1430s, when there were few other current subjects with male nudes other than Christ.

 
 

Andrea Mantegna

 
 

It has been suggested that the first picture was made after Mantegna had recovered from the plague in Padua (1456–1457). Probably commissioned by the city’s podestà to celebrate the end of the pestilence, it was finished before the artist left the city for Mantua. According to Battisti, the theme refers to the Book of Revelation. A rider is present in the clouds at the upper left corner (pic. 1). As specified in John’s work, the cloud is white and the rider has a scythe, which he is using to cut the cloud. The rider has been interpreted as Saturn, the Roman-Greek god: in ancient times Saturn was identified with the Time that passed by and all left destroyed behind him.

 
 

Giovanni Bellini (1460-64)

 
 

Sandro Botticelli (1474)

 
 

Albretch Dürer

 
 

Giovanni Antonio Bazzi “Il Sodoma” (1525)

 
 

The saint is ordinarily depicted as a handsome youth pierced by arrows. Predella scenes when required, often depicted his arrest, confrontation with the Emperor, and final beheading. The illustration in the infobox is the Saint Sebastian of Il Sodoma, at the Pitti Palace, Florence.

 
 

Cesare Da Sesto (1523)

 
 


El Greco

 
 

 San Sebastiano curato da un angelo (St Sebastian Healed by an Angel), Giovanni Baglione, c. 1603

 
 

Anton Van Dyck (1621-1627)

 
 

Peter Paul Rubens

 
 

José de Ribera (1651)

 
 

St Sebastien Attended by St Irene, Georges de La Tour, (c. 1649)

 
 

Honoré Daumier, 1849-52

 
 

A mainly 17th-century subject, though found in predella scenes as early as the 15th century, was St Sebastian tended by St Irene, painted by Georges de La Tour, Trophime Bigot (four times), José de Ribera, Hendrick ter Brugghen and others.

 
 

The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, by Ángel Zárraga (1911)

 
 

This may have been a deliberate attempt by the Church to get away from the single nude subject, which is already recorded in Vasari as sometimes arousing inappropriate thoughts among female churchgoers. The Baroque artists usually treated it as a nocturnal chiaroscuro scene, illuminated by a single candle, torch or lantern, in the style fashionable in the first half of the 17th century. There exist several cycles depicting the life of Saint Sebastian. Among them are the frescos in the “Basilica di San Sebastiano” of Acireale (Italy) with paintings by Pietro Paolo Vasta.

 
 

Antonio Bellucci, c. 1716-8

 
 

Saint Roch with Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian (after a picture attributed to Alessandro Oliverio), John Singer Sargent, circa 1880-1881

 
 

Egon Schiele painted a self-portrait as Saint Sebastian in 1915

 
 

During Salvador Dalí’s “Lorca (Federico García Lorca) Period”, he painted Sebastian several times, most notably in his “Neo-Cubist Academy”

 
 

While Lorca was not a practicing Catholic, he was fascinated by Catholic liturgy and ritual, leading him to seek inspiration from religious themes such as the lives of saints which he would have studied while reading The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Vorgine. Sebastian relate to Lorca’s poetics as well as his relationship to Salvador Dalí.

 
 

Gabriele  d’Annunzio come S. Sebastiano, A. Salvini. In 1911, the Italian playwright Gabriele d’Annunzio in conjunction with Claude Debussy produced a mystery play on the subject.

 
 

St. Sebastian with St. Irene and Attendant,Eugène Delacroix, 1858

 
 

The American composer Gian Carlo Menotti composed a ballet score for a Ballets Russes production which was first given in 1944. In his novella Death in Venice, Thomas Mann hails the “Sebastian-Figure” as the supreme emblem of Apollonian beauty, that is, the artistry of differentiated forms; beauty as measured by discipline, proportion, and luminous distinctions. This allusion to Saint Sebastian’s suffering, associated with the writerly professionalism of the novella’s protagonist, Gustav Aschenbach, provides a model for the “heroism born of weakness”, which characterizes poise amidst agonizing torment and plain acceptance of one’s fate as, beyond mere patience and passivity, a stylized achievement and artistic triumph.

Sebastian’s death was depicted in the 1949 film Fabiola, in which he was played by Massimo Girotti.

 
 

In 1976, the British director Derek Jarman made his debut film, Sebastiane, which caused controversy in its treatment of the martyr as a homosexual icon. However, as several critics have noted, this has been a subtext of the imagery since the Renaissance.

 
 

Also in 1976, a figure of Saint Sebastian appeared throughout the American horror film Carrie, directed by Brian de Palma

 
 

Pietro Vannucci Perugino’s painting (c. 1495) of Saint Sebastian is featured in the  movie Wit  (Mike Nichols, 2001) starring Emma Thompson. Thompson’s character, as a college student, visits her professor’s office, where an almost life-size painting of Saint Sebastian hangs on the wall. Later, when the main character is a professor herself, diagnosed with cancer, she keeps a small print of this same painting of Saint Sebastian next to her hospital bed. The allusion appears to be to Sebastian’s stoic martyrdom – a role the Thompson character has willingly accepted for the betterment of all mankind. There may be a touch of authorial (or directorial) cynicism in making this “saintly” connection.

 
 

tumblr_lm64izZk8c1qcdvnmo1_1280Still from R.E.M.’s  Losing My Religion (Tarsem Singh, 1991) promotional music video

 
 

*I will be posting more artistic representations of St Sebastian on The Genealogy of Style´s new Facebook page
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.597637210325056.1073741828.597542157001228&type=1&l=9328e23d78

Keep Your Pants On

Braces may have been employed since the end of the eighteen century to hold up men’s buckskin breeches but in the 1990s we no longer boast buck on our bums and we no longer use the word braces. Its mere utterance conjures up those pimply days of puberty and all of its embarrassments: corn kernels wedged in tinsel teeth, locked lips on a first kiss, rubber bands that smacked your valentine right between her eyes. The British say “braces”. Americans say “suspenders”.
 
Ok, we have learned what they’re called, so now we should learn what to avoid wearing. Beware of elaborately floral, shocking pink or insignia-imprinted designs. Because suspenders are most often worn with ties, the potential for clashing is high. Solid and subtly patterned suspenders are easier to match. Even for a punk or a hipster.
 
However, because fashion now is about being democratic, if you opt for a patterned pair, make sure the pattern is woven into the fabric and not ironed (or silk-screened) on. It’s classier.
 
Considering wearing a belt with your suspenders? Please, don’t.
 
Once upon a time, before the steamy factory days driven by mass production, a man could have his braces custom-made. Brass levers (as they were never anything but brassy) would rest comfortably in the personal hollow of a man’s chest. If they were set too high (above the bottom half of the chest), the levers’ double layer of material would pad the chest and the buckles would sneak up toward the face. In today’s world suspenders are a one-size-fits-all-deal. And so, as the bias stands, if you are going to brace yourself you’d better be tall. A kind tailor might customize a pair for you. A kind shoe repairman might as well.
 
A word on placement: The front buttons should be sewn securely inside the waistband and aligned with that clean pleat closest to the bone. This prevents our pants from fanning when we stand; it also defines the trouser’s creases and weights their depth. A button set too far to the side of the trousers relaxes the tension on the strap, permitting it to slip, like a woman’s bra might, coquettishly from the shoulder. Not flirty. Not sexy. Not cute.
 
Suspenders date to the French court of Louis XVI, when aristocrats began to use strips of ribbon to support their trousers. Long considered underwear — exposing them was against the law on Long Island as recently as 1938.
 
Here are few more historical facts about suspenders:
 
It’s been said that Benjamin Franklin invented them.
Claude Debussy wore floral ones.
Napoleon Bonaparte flaunted his bee insignia on his.
Victorian sweethearts would woo their suitors with hand-embroidered ones.

 
 

Clark Gable

 
 

Gary Cooper

 
 

Marlon Brando

 
 

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

 
 

Jude Law. Still from Cold Mountain (Anthony Minghella, 2003)

 
 

Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic (James Cameron, 1997)

 
 

Maxwell

 
 

Raoul Bova accompanied by Monica Belluci

 
 

David Bowie

 
 

Suspenders. Photography by Leon Levinstein, 1955

 
 

Joe Strummer

 
 

Haircut 100

 
 

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

 
 

Alexander McQueen Menswear

 
 

Diesel ad campaign

 
 

Fun. Carry On music video (Anthony Mandler, 2012)

 
 

Nicole Kidman photographed by Craig Mcdean

 
 

Charlotte Rampling in a promotional picture for Il Portiere di Notte / The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani, 1974)

 
 

Madonna. Erotica music video (Fabien Baron, 1992)

 
 

Jeffrey Costello & Robert Tagliapietra

 
 

Several kind of suspenders had been shown in Ralph Lauren collections whether for women or for men and for children as well