Thursday, December 15, 2011

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s Viol

Pascal Quignard’s All The World’s Mornings is a perfect read: a novella, which one can move through in an hour’s time, carried away by the story and by the oddity of its characters.

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, the book main’s character, is Pascal Quignard’s fictional rendition of the real Monsieur de Sainte Colombe, a seventeenth century French composer and viol virtuoso whose mastery of the instrument is thus described:

“One of his pupils…declared that he contrived to imitate all the inflexions of the human voice: from the sigh of a young lady to the sob of an old man, from the war cry of Henri de Navarre to the soft breathing of a child trying to draw something, from the distracted groan sometimes produced by sexual pleasure to the almost voiceless gravity, deprived of nearly all force and harmony, of a man lost in prayer.”

Monsieur de Sainte Colombe’s personality is as out of his ordinary as his musical gift.

This gift appears to mark the lives of others and offers us titillating scenes in the novel: Monsieur Caignet, the king’s emissary, invites Monsieur de Sainte Colombe to perform for the king at Versailles; the offer is quickly turned down.
The king’s envoy does not leave the musician’s household right away however; he secretively spies on Monsieur de Sainte Colombe and draws a few conclusions:

“He spoke to the king, reporting the reasons the musician had put forward and conveyed to him the marvelous and complex impression that had been made upon him by the music he had listened to in that secret hiding place.”

The ‘listening in’ theme (woven throughout lines of the novel), reminds us of the scene in the garden from the Princess of Clèves and makes one wonder whether this is a literary device intentionally (and successfully) re-used in All the World’s Mornings.

Unless perhaps listening in on one another was a reflex of the Baroque era itself, as customary as parting in enmity after moments of tension (but still adhering to some semblance of etiquette):

“Monsieur de Sainte Colombe was shoving M. Caignet towards the house as he was speaking. 
They took their leave of one another with formal bows. “

The title of the novella comes from a sentence at the beginning of chapter XXVI: “All the world’s mornings are gone without recall.”

And, to end this post, another quote from this interesting book:

“What are you seeking, Monsieur, in music?”
“I am seeking regrets and tears.”

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