Marcel Proust (1871-1922): Music
Above: Portrait of Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1907), by Zoé Lucie Betty de Rothschild (aka Lucie Lambert, 1863-1916). Hahn was a Venezuelan-born, naturalized French, composer, conductor, critic, and singer, who became Proust's longtime partner, then intimate friend for the rest of his life. Image source: Wikimedia Commons. Image license: Public domain.
For Proust, music, along with the visual arts, offered a way to expand and enrich the range of his own literary language through figure and allusion. At the same time, he discovered in music a way to explore and challenge the limits of that language as an agent of aesthetic communication. Music as performance, as topic of debate, as catalyst of memory, emotion, and desire, plays an obbligato accompaniment to the interpersonal drama of the Proustian social world: its hilarity, its pathos, its vacuity, its sensuality, its cruelty. Perhaps the crucial turning point of Proust's work arrives as its narrator listens to a piece of music: the Vinteuil septet, a seminal experience that leads him to the threshold of a life beyond the temps perdu of his youth, a life he enters in earnest at the very end of his work. Few writers have dared to grant music such a pivotal role in a work of literature, even fewer have made such far-reaching claims about the ethical significance of the experience of music, and fewer still have substantiated these claims enough to carry conviction. Proust manages all three. His vision of the potential unity and transformative power of the arts, while Romantic and Wagnerian in inspiration, shaped the European modernist tradition that followed him, and issued in a novel that remains without peer in the literary analysis of musical experience.
On this page, UB users can explore recordings of musical works in the Naxos Music Library by composers to whom Proust's novel explicitly refers. Each of the galleries below is arranged alphabetically by the last name of the composer for easy reference while reading.
All those interested in Proust's musical references and his musical world are furthermore encouraged to explore James Connelly's "playlist resource," the online pamphlet entitled Music in Marcel Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.