Thursday, 14 November 2013

Rudel by Vrubel

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel (1856-1920) was a Russian Symbolist painter whose struggles with tertiary syphilis probably sealed his reputation as a purveyor of feverish, sometimes demonic visions.

In 1896, Vrubel was commissioned to design a mural for a pavilion in the 1896 Nizhny Novgorod exhibition. He submitted two designs: the one that interests us here was a scene inspired by Rostand’s La Princesse Lointaine (known in Russia as Princess Gryoza, or The Princess of the Dream). The exhibition panel rejected both murals, but they were later completed by other artists under Vrubel’s guidance.

Preparatory sketch

Finished canvas
It was presumably this picture - a 53-by-23-foot canvas painted in oils - that was discovered in a Bolshoi Theatre warehouse in 1960 and, after restoration, formed one of the centrepieces of the reopened State Tretyakov Gallery in 1995. 

The Gallery’s notes describe it thus:

The ship seems to be soaring over the waves. In the centre is the dying prince, a lyre in his hand. Standing by the ship's mast is his friend, knight and poet Bertrand. To the right are pirates, moved by the intensity of the prince's love; What they have witnessed will subsequently turn them into crusaders, knights of the spirit. In the last moments of his life, the hero sings a song about his reverie, princess Melisande. The entire world – Nature's elements and people's souls alike - are caught by the sounds of lofty music. At this instant, beauty triumphs in the world and a miracle takes place: the ravishing princess bends over the poet's brow. The painting personified the idea of art's timelessness, its spiritual power over the temporal world.
In 1905, Vrubel returned to his treatment of the Rudel legend when he created mosaics for the hotel Metropol in Moscow. One facade features a mosaic panel also entitled 'Princess Gryoza'. It’s still there, and often shows up on Flickr.

The following year, Vrubel’s long struggle with tertiary syphilis left him almost blind and mentally unable to continue painting, and he died in 1910. But we don’t expect happy endings where Rudel is concerned.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A little Jaufré in the night

Rooting about in the University of Bristol's Theatre Collection recently, I happened across some issues of The Yellow Book - the short-lived (1894-1897) but notorious literary journal. I'd wondered whether I might find mention of Rostand or Bernhardt, this being the era of La Princesse Lointaine, but no. What did jump out at me was a poem by Rosamund Marriott Watson from the July 1896 issue.

'D'Outre tombe' ('Beyond the Grave') is a short lament that, well, speaks for itself, really. Here it is:
Beside my grave, if chance should ever bring you,
You, peradventure, on some dim Spring day,
What song of welcome could my blackbird sing you,
As once in May?

As once in May, when all the birds were calling,
Calling and crying through the soft Spring rain,
As once in Autumn with the dead leaves falling
In wood and lane.

I, in my grave, and you, above, remember –
And yet between us what is there to say? –
In Death’s disseverance, wider than December
Disparts from May.

I with the dead, and you among the living,
In separate camps we sojourn, unallied;
Life is unkind and Death is unforgiving,
And both divide.
No, not the greatest thing ever written, but it has Rudel stamped all the way through it. The line 'As once in May' is a pretty spot-on echo of Jaufré's 'Lanquan il jorn son lonc en mai', and the blackbird / dead leaves imagery is standard troubadour schtick. It could also pass for a monologue by the dead Rudel.

Not mention the similarity of the title to a certain book concerning Jaufré Rudel.

No doubt this is one of thousands of Provençal knock-offs from the Victorian era, but its publication in the Bible of the Decadents is kind of interesting.  

Thursday, 21 February 2013

‘Unflagging energy and a lack of tenderness...’

The Chester Musical Festival of 1891 saw the premiere of a specially commissioned work composed by one Dr JC Bridge, organist at Chester Cathedral and conductor of the Festival.

The dramatic cantata, Rudel, with a libretto by Mr FE Weatherley, was performed in the city’s music hall on Wednesday 22 July. A review in The Times the following Monday commented:

The chief characteristic of Mr Bridge’s music is unflagging energy, its principal defect a lack of tenderness in what may be styled the sentimental portions.

Bit of a drawback for a tale roughly 97% sentiment, but entirely in keeping with the image of 19th-century British classical music.

A ‘revels’ scene apparently used old English folk tunes including ‘Cheshire rounds’, ‘Carman’s whistle’, and the granddaddy of them all, ‘Summer is icumen in’, and did so with impunity, indicating that in 1891 there weren’t yet any purists to get hot under the collar about travestying the Provencal essence of the story.
We note that the role of a love rival, Sir Guy, was sung by a baritone with the splendid name of Bantock Pierpoint.