Eivind Buene

Eivind Buene

Composer & Author

Eivind Buene

For a kid from Slemmestad whose first music purchase, a cassette tape bought with his own pocket money, featured Modern Talking, Eivind Buene has come a long way. He is a shining example of someone who, driven by an ever searching, inquisitive mind, gradually came to classical and contemporary music until it completely engulfed him. It is perhaps this perpetual inquisitiveness that has made him venture beyond his main occupational sphere as a composer and dive headlong into the literary world as a fully fledged novelist.

This inquisitiveness certainly remains a key characteristic of his artistic practice. As a composer and author, Buene leads a double life – navigating at ease between two strongholds of western culture, contemporary music and literature, and making excursions into pop, whenever he feels like it.

As a composer, he seems more preoccupied with exploring new ideas than maintaining a stylistic rigour, his passion for music of different genres and epochs being just as present in his compositions as in his novels and essays. Naturally, he speaks and writes with the same fervour about Mahler, Brahms or Beethoven, as he does about Prince or D’ Angelo.

Essentially, a dialectic relationship with music history and questioning the current situation is the strongest unifying proponent in Buene’s work, whether working with archive material, delicately weaving echoes of composers of the past into his compositions or playing Schubert Lieder in a modern singer/song-writer style on a Fender Rhodes electric piano.

Buene often speaks of a certain shameless attitude or naivety being necessary to present the modern world with a new work of art. That in a world so abundant with artistic masterworks one has to cherish the childlike naïve part of one’s self in order to say “Look, I made this!”

Well, here at Magma we are happy present some of the wonderful works made and put out in the world by Eivind Buene.

We are also thrilled that Eivind co-hosted the Magma: KONTRAPUNKT Tribute in Berlin on November 28th – a very special quiz show that will be published here at Magma in the coming weeks.

Biography

Eivind Buene studied pedagogics and composition at the Norwegian State Academy of Music from 1992 to 1998, and in 1999 and 2000 he was composer in residence with the Oslo Sinfonietta. Since 2000 he has been a freelance composer living and working in Oslo, writing for a wide array of ensembles and orchestras. He has recieved commissions from among others Ensemble Intercontemporain, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Fondation Royaumont and a variety of Scandinavian orchestras and ensembles.

Apart from writing music for soloists, ensembles and orchestras, Buene also frequently engages in collaborations with improvising musicians, developing music in the cross-section between classical notation and improvisation.

Buene’s music has been performed at prestigous venues like Carnegie Hall, Berlin Philharmonie and Centre Pompidou.

His debut as a stage composer came in august 2006 with the one act chamber opera September, based on Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. Buene is currently working on an opera for the new opera in Oslo, together with writers Jon Øystein Flink and Rasmus Munch.

In addition to music, Buene has written music critique and essays, and he made his literary debut with the novel Enmannsorkester in 2010. His second novel was released in October 2012, and a collection of essays was published in March 2014. From 2015 to 2019 Buene is assistant professor in composition at the Norwegian Academy of Music.

Eivind Buene: Possible Cities/Essential Landscapes

A chamber music cycle written for Cikada and Ensemble Intercontemporain.

“I have always thought that moving through a city is a good metaphor for listening to new music… A big city will invite you through unfamiliar streets, into dark alleyways and sudden openings of light. It demands active participation, it offers new experiences, and there are countless ways of moving from one point to the next; a multitude of possible itineraries open up for both the wanderer and the listener. Traversing a city lets you meditate on construction and decay, on human ingenuity and the inevitable forces of time. Apparent chaos suddenly reveals a beautiful logic. Seemingly random patterns turn out to be networks of human interaction. And underneath the solid surfaces there’s always nature, waiting to take over, to obliterate our structures with organic growth.

I have tried to make these liminal states audible in ‘Possible Cities/Essential Landscapes’. The work is an invitation to listen in to a landscape where stories emerge, multiply and disappear. As Italo Calvino phrases it in Invisible Cities: “It is not the voice that commands the story: It is the ear.” – EB

Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities

“At times I feel your voice is reaching me from far away, while I am prisoner of a gaudy and un-livable present, where all forms of human society have reached an extreme of their cycle and there is no imagining what new forms they may assume. And I hear, from your voice, the invisible reasons which make cities live, through which perhaps, once dead, they will come to life again.”

And Marco answered: “While, at a sign from you, sire, the unique and final city raises its stainless walls, I am collecting the ashes of other possible cities that vanish to make room for it, cities that can never be rebuilt or remembered.”

Contemplating these essential landscapes, Kublai reflected on the invisible order that sustain cities, on the rules that decreed how they rise, take shape and prosper, adapting themselves to the seasons, and then how they sadden and fall into ruins. At times he thought he was on the verge of discovering a coherent, harmonious system underlying the infinite deformities and discords […]

Eivind Buene: Schubert Lounge

“The human voice has been a theme in both of my novels. In Enmannsorkester, one of the characters, a student of history, has a breakdown related to Schubert’s Winterreise (I know it sounds strange, but it makes sense in the book!)

Parallel with writing this, I started experimenting a little with Schubert songs myself, recasting them in the shape and posture of popular music.

Schubert used to sing and play his songs to his friends in Vienna, and I tried to imagine what it would sound like if Schubert was a singer/songwriter in the seventies. I am not a singer nor a pianist, but I wanted to try out this theory, so I bought an old Fender Rhodes electric piano – the grand piano of the singer songwriter – translated some songs to the esperanto of pop music, English, and started to sing.

I took huge liberties with Schubert’s songs; some of them are partially recomposed, while others are close to the original. The result has been a series of performances, mostly house concerts, in keeping with Schuberts spirit. It has also resulted in an EP, and a second volume is in the works.” – EB

Eivind Buene & PoingInto the Void

“This is a collaboration with the omnivorous performers of Poing. Together with jazz drummer Per Oddvar Johansen they take on a big wind ensemble, and I’ve really let myself go with this piece, exploring a vast area of music and even revisiting my old love for funk…” – EB

More about the work

It is not always the first idea that is the best, but now and then it is smart to stake everything on that first spark. That is what I did when the Norwegian Wind Ensemble asked if I would compose a work for the ensemble, and my very first thought was that I wanted to write a work with the trio POING as soloists.

An obvious reason was that the musicians in POING are brilliant on their respective instruments. But there was a second reason, equally important: I believed that our friendship over many years and the long list of our joint projects could open the way for new forms of musical collaboration.

We have all worked in a wide range of musical settings, and moving as I have done between contemporary, improvisational, popular, folk, and classical music, I have been struck by how often I have encountered one of the three musicians in this trio. Thus, a description of our work with Into the Void must necessarily be a personal one.

The musicians in POING count among my best friends, and they have played my music from the time we were students together in Oslo in the 1990s. I have heard them, both as a band and as soloists, in countless performances and in an incredibly wide range of genres that I won’t even start to enumerate here. We have played together at weddings and funerals (at weddings in any case); I have been booted out of groups we formed together (for good reason, given my lack of instrumental virtuosity); and we have played hammed-up bossanova versions in the summer and low-brow Schubert in the winter.

So when I sat down at my desk in 2007 to think about this, one thing was completely clear: I was not interested in writing a work for saxophone, accordion, bass, and ensemble; I wanted to write for Rolf-Erik, Frode, Håkon, and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble. A work for the persons, not their instruments. And knowing that POING has had a long-lasting collaboration with drummer Per Oddvar Johansen, it seemed natural to involve him as well, and, all the more, because I have admired his playing since first hearing him when I was around sixteen or seventeen. Conductor Christian Eggen and I have also had a special working relationship. I was a recent hatchling of the Norwegian Academy of Music when Oslo Sinfonietta invited me to serve for two years as house composer, with Christian as artistic director. We have collaborated many times since, and I have always appreciated his curiosity and the breadth of his musical prespective.

It is difficult to explain the various processes and compositional choices behind the music of Into the Void. I believe it has to do with trust. The work has grown organically, in an atmosphere of trial and error, exploration and learning. There is no uniform ‘basic material’; I have taken the liberty of following wildly diverging musical ideas and impulses.

We began with a couple of loose rehearsals with the ensemble, and it soon meshed with POING in a musical flow of composition and improvisation that subsequently assumed the form of Into the Void.

This combination was not new to me; I have written a number of works at this intersection of improvisation and composition. The first was Objects of Desire, a Fender Rhodes concerto written in 2000 for Christian Wallumrød and Oslo Sinfonietta. In 2004 I composed Asymmetrical Music for Ingar Zach, Ivar Grydeland, and ensemble.

Into the Void, premiered in 2008, represents a new dimension: an ensemble with 24 musicians, four soloists, and one hour of music. In its form, it resembles a novel — in the abundance of detail, the turning points, the contrasts. I have shamelessly employed a broad spectrum of musical expression in one and the same work, from birdflock-like playing via rhythmically driven riffs to ambient expanses of sound and complex interaction between soloists and ensemble. And it is the first time I have attempted to incorporate elements of the popular music I have worked with in the context of a band into the structure of a work in the European tradition.

In short: with Into the Void I have allowed free rein to my urge to blend different types of music.

The title suggests a space that opens up where the notes end and the interaction between the musicians continues. For a composer this is, at the same time, a frightening vacuum and an enticing opportunity, knowing that an improvising musician can grab hold of the intensity of the moment differently than a composer sitting at a desk and working on the extreme edge of the music’s flow of time.

On the other hand, a composer can shape long lapses of time in a different manner than an improvising musician. But what is most important for me is this: The work must be recreated in each new performance — in a radical version of the idea of interpretation.

My aim is not only to challenge myself as composer, but also the performers, who must find new paths and possibilities for each performance of the work. The version the listener experiences on this recording was created in the course of a few hectic days in October 2012, in Rainbow Studio in Oslo. And then and there it was the truest realization of this music.

Into the Void differs from Objects of Desire and Asymmetrical Music in one essential point: While the latter have a through-composed score, Into the Void consists of a text that describes the progression of interaction between soloists and ensemble. It is this text, divided into six chapters, that is the ‘score’, while musical notation appear as footnotes to the text.

Although there is virtually no traditional notation in the opening, more weight is given to notated parts toward the end, without it being possible to hear exactly what is notated and what improvised. This is probably a consequence of my urge to experiment with musical forms and processes. A question I often ask myself is:

What will happen if . . .? For Into the Void there was a two-part hypothesis based on the questions: What will happen if the music for such a large group of musicians consists primarily of written instructions? And what will happen if I give the soloists broad licence to lead the ensemble in improvisational interaction in real time? I was eager to learn if this could lead to the musical experience I was out to find. And listening to this recording now in the warm summer of 2014, I can conclude, with feelings of both pride and gratitude toward the musicians, that the answer is yes.

Translation: Jim Skurdall

Swann’s Ears – Proust and Music, from Double Life

I have a penchant for talking a little too much about books that I love. I have evangelized at all hours about Infinite Jest, to just about everyone I know. Of all the people that have heard me extemporizing about this brilliant brick of a book, at least one has actually picked it up and read it – a young composer colleague I met at Kaurismäki’s Bar in Helsinki.

During a rather hazy conversation about literature, I obviously got going on the subject, and this impressionable guy of twenty-two didn’t have to be asked twice. So when I met him a couple of years later and he told me that I’d have to read Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, it was more of an imperative than an advice. Read it before you get too old, he told me. Or it will only make you sad. So with a certain anniversary looming in my imminent future, it seemed like a good year for the project Proust before forty.

I

The Madeleine has become a historical monument on level with Duchamp’s urinal or Wagner’s Walkürenritt. And names like Combray, Guermantes and Swann will be familiar even to readers with a marginal knowledge of In Search of Lost Time. Being a composer, there is another name that lingers vividly with me after reading. The name Vinteuil may not be as familiar, but for those who listen to the music in Proust this is the most important of the two thousand names we are presented to in the seven tomes. In the opening of Swann’s Way, we hear about a provincial music teacher and organist by the name Vinteuil, mainly through his grief over his deceased wife and lack of authority over his daughter. He is, like so many amateurs of the late 19th century, also a keen hobby composer, writing piano pieces to be consumed by the archives of oblivion. But in the next part, where the aesthete Swann’s love life is dissected, the name Vinteuil takes on a new significance. During one of the many Salons at Madame Verdurin, Swann hears Vinteuils Violin Sonata – a piece that has become a posthumous hit among the Parisian connoisseurs. It is the second time Swann hears the sonata, but this performance coincides with his falling in love with the cocotte Odette.

Swann becomes obsessed by a small phrase in this piece. At first, the music seems to assume the role if often takes in the beginning of a love affair; the petite phrase was “the national anthem of their love”, according to Proust. This is a familiar trope when music is utilized as a literary prop: Our song, a symbol that reminds us who we were when we met, a token that love is not an illusion. Music becomes a reminder of the bond between the lovers, how strong it really is, because music doesn’t change like we do; it comes to us just as it did back then, when love was new. In other words: Music is a most powerful Madeleine.

But Proust has more in store in describing how music works. The Madeleine-experience evokes a revisiting of the past, but Vinteuils sonata becomes a force that drives the narrative forward, bringing about game-changing events. Samuel Beckett called music “the catalytic element” in Proust’s work already in his 1931. This is a good way of describing how Vinteuil’s sonata affects Swann’s development. Music takes on an overturning existential significance: It is as if Vinteuil’s music opens up another room in Swann, makes him register his surrounding with a different gaze – or rather: with different ears. Swann hears his world anew. This is way beyond music as prop, as signifier of class or identity; this is music as life-changing power. Time shaped within the forces of sound gives us new coordinates to navigate by. The blasé Swann discovers “a country within, a new way for his spirit to walk”, as Alex Ross succinctly describes it in one of his essays. Swann, described as something of an erotomaniac on the first fifty pages of “Swann in Love” is overtaken by an overwhelming need to attach to Odette. Music creates a bridge between his inner imaginations and the actual world, and it is the change in his inner vision that makes him able to rediscover his surroundings.

It is the second time Swann hears the Vinteuil-phrase that it really strikes him. And Proust has seen a profound truth in our relation to music: Our need to hear again. Swann is infused by the little phrase the first time he hears it, but it doesn’t really take on any significance until he hears it for the second time. The narrator reflects on this when he hears the sonata for the first time: “But often one listens and hears nothing, if it is a piece of music at all complicated to which one is listening for the first time. And yet when, later on, this sonata had been played over to me two or three times I found that I knew it quite well. […] Probably what is wanting, the first time, is not comprehension but memory.”

No wonder Proust is preoccupied with music. It is transient, dependent on memory; it creates a certain kind of timelessness. Music emerges, again and again, with every new performance, in ways similar to how memory recreates times and places, again and again. The same event inscribes itself differently in our separate memories, just as we hear the same piece of music differently, depending on our predispositions. The Vinteuil sonata is a good example of how Proust shows us the same object from different angles, filtered through different sensibilities. The technique is not unlike Monet’s series of paintings of the cathedral in Rouen, where the building is painted at different times of the day, in changing light. Proust lets us listen in on Vinteuil through different ears: “Swann saw it approaching, stealing forth from underneath that resonance, which was prolonged and stretched out over it, like a curtain of sound, to veil the mystery of its birth — and recognized, secret, whispering, articulate, the airy and fragrant phrase that he had loved.” Some two thousand five hundred pages later, we read about the narrator’s meeting with this music, and how it changes his life. In “Swann in Love” we also hear an appraisal of the music by the Cottards, a couple who are typical representatives of the public. And we realize that Vinteuil is an avant-garde composer of his time: “It appeared to them, when the pianist played his sonata, as though he were striking haphazard from the piano a medley of notes which bore no relation to the musical forms to which they themselves were accustomed [.]” The music itself remains an enigma, not unlike its creator. Proust’s portrait of Vinteuil is painted with the same technique of multiple perspectives: From being portrayed as a failed rural amateur, he is transformed to the misunderstood genius, the arch-European artist whose work transcends its creator and is lifted by a mysterious and emergent power.

II

Of all the scholarly paragraphs spent on In search of lost time, a fair amount is dedicated to the role of music. There is a small cult dedicated to Vinteuil and his sonata, and it is no surprise that several musicians and composers have tried to realize fiction – to actually compose the Vinteuil sonata. On websites and blogs you can find posts by people looking for recordings of the Vinteuil sonata, and a lot of snippets on YouTube play Saint Saëns Violin Sonata in d-minor under the heading of Vinteuil. Yes, Proust wrote in a letter that this piece was a model for the sonata – even though he found Saint Saëns to be mediocre. But Proust created his musical fictions in the same way that he created character: His characters are compounds of features lifted from several different persons in his surroundings, and by the same token his music is composed by traits from an array of different pieces. Proust’s lover, the composer Reynaldo Hahn, describes how Proust made him play a phrase from Saint Saëns Violin Sonata again and again, similar to how Odette played the little phrase to Swann. But Proust also writes, in another letter, that he has used the Good Friday music from Wagner’s Parsifal and music by César Franck in descriptions of the Vinteuil sonata.

In Proust’s time serious music was linked to long durations and large-scale form. Proust was into opera, and one of his earliest fascinations was Richard Wagner. I imagine Marcel as a boy must have had similarities with the young Hanno in Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks; the upper-class kid devoured by a Wagner-cult representing the last, decadent phase of the decline of a bourgeoisie family. In the first versions of In Search of Lost Time the narrator had his epiphanies during a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal. In the finished book, in The Captive, Wagner was substituted by the fictitious Vinteuil, a change that gives Proust – and the reader – a great advantage: Wagner would have linked the reading to something already known, non-fictional, with what we could call a reality-effect. But by choosing the fictional Vinteuil, Proust opens up a room for our imagination, a space we can populate with our own musical imaginations of an ideal, world-changing music. Having to relate to the very real Wagner would reduce this space for imagination and co-creation. Proust does the same with two other artists that are prominent in the weave of In Search of Lost Time; both the writer Bergotte and the painter Elstir are fictitious, even though readers with special knowledge surely can deduce their real-life models. There are numerous references to real writers, composers, musicians, artists and great gardeners (!) – their works and ideas are discussed at length both in dialogue and in the inner monologues of the narrator. But the important moments, the epiphanies and turning points, deal exclusively with the experience of fictitious works of art. The narrator hints at this hierarchy when he asserts that “in the state of mind in which we ‘observe’ we are a long way below the level to which we rise when we create.” Proust wanted to spare the reader for the disappointment the narrator felt when he finally got to see the church in Balbec; in its modest surroundings chained to the main street with bank, café and omnibus office, the historical church appears depressingly trivial compared to the vision the narrator had created for himself. The famous sculpture of Maria was reduced to its own appearance, “transformed, as was the church itself, into a little old woman in stone whose height I could measure and count her wrinkles.”

So the descriptions of Vinteuil’s music are infused with the music of Proust’s contemporaries. Here, in the French music, he found the care for detail, the fugitive and brilliant moment, like the one we can read from the description of the little phrase. But even if it were romantic composers close to the worn-out music of the Salons that inspired this writing, Proust was an avid listener to the avant-garde of his time. His tastes were advanced, not least in his admiration for Claude Debussy. Debussy was nine years older than Proust, born in 1862, and a true pioneer in ways that are not so easy to grasp when we hear his music today. Debussy suspends the causal, dramaturgical development that governed both sonata form and the symphony. While Beethoven creates a dialectic where main theme and secondary theme confront each other in the symphonic development, Debussy is not preoccupied with dramatic development. In short: He breaks the arrow of time. Time is no longer unidirectional; themes and motives are juggled around, colored in different hues, but they are not developed in any classical sense. They are unfazed by the gravitational force of time. The parallel to Proust’s mnemonic work is striking. We also find literal traces of Debussy in In Search of Lost Time, most obvious in the description of Vinteuil’s Septet, where the opening of Debussy’s La Mer is a palpable model. Proust even had his opera Pelléas et Mélisande transmitted live from the Garnier-opera to his bedroom, via telephone line, in a Stone Age version of streaming. We can picture the sound quality of the transmission, and admire Proust’s sonic imagination and ability for creative listening.

This takes us to a mode of listening that is not passively consuming, but that demands that we as listeners recreate music in our own inner imaginations. Which we can assume that Proust did, in his bed with his ear pressed against the telephone receiver. This mode of listening (both via noisy phone-lines and following operatic time-spans) demands something else from us than the motive, the phrase or the song does. In the same way that it takes something else to read Proust than, why not, this little essay that you can read while you wait for the teakettle to boil. Listening to long structures of sound demands that we can meet the slow, outer time of music with an inner sense of time where we direct our attention towards what is happening in our ears. We have to sort and classify sonic information, keep it alive in a room that is not created by visual means but which is purely mental. This active, co-creative listening is one of the abilities that allow Proust to write so convincingly about the possibilities of music. He puts it beautifully in In a Budding Grove, where the narrator reflects on listening to Wagner’s overtures: “I was trying to elevate myself, as far as I could, so as to attain to a comprehension of them, I was extracting from myself so as to understand them, and was attributing to them, all that was best and most profound in my own nature at that time.” Music is not only something that comes to you. You also come to music, with all the powers of your imagination.

The fact that Swann’s experience is related to a little phrase, and not the whole sonata, points to another mode of listening: to sound as isolated event, a certain moment, something that does not have a time structure that we must subordinate to. Proust makes it clear to the reader that Swann’s participation in Verdurin’s Salon implies a significant aesthetical lowering of his standards, both with regard to etiquette, literary taste, art and even home decoration. Odette’s love of simple salon music (the expression is not incidental) reveals a triteness that Swann succumbs to for Odette’s sake, and he lets go of his higher ideals. And even though Vinteuil is regarded as a sublime composer in Proust’s book, it is precisely in the event of the little phrase Swann’s advanced taste meets the vernacular of Odette. That striking, memorable moment is also the core of the popular music of our days, in the form of the chorus, that is, the culmination of the song. This is where we find the hook-line, as songwriters call it, the motive or the phrase that is the very thing we remember when we think about that particular song. It is a compound of textual, phonetical and musical elements that form something so striking that it gives the song an identity of its own. (Imagine the melancholy falsetto of Chris Martin in the chorus of a Coldplay-song, or Bruno Mars singing that you make me feeel like I’m locked out of heeeaven for to lououong … well, you get the point.)

In this way Proust not only grasps – and prognosticates – music’s significance as memory marker and crutch for our sentimentality, but also as sonic icon and life style branding. And simultaneously, he shows us how co-creative, imaginative listening – for those who choose to go all in to music – can yield sensory experiences that change us.

We tend to regard life-changing, art-related experiences as a good thing. A change for the better, a personal development. Swann’s development is also positively described, initially. But after a while this unambiguous drive is lost, and towards the end of “Swann in Love” Proust describes the love for Odette, through Swann’s (not unfounded) jealousy, as a disease. This does of course inflict the way we hear the little phrase; music is no longer merely a force that opens up new spaces in Swann’s interior life – it is a door opener for resignation and decline. Swann and Odette are married in In a Budding Grove. But we already know that Swann marries Odette when he no longer loves her, and we understand that his life’s ambitions, his Vermeer-studies, his high standards, are lost in this combination of triumph and sacrifice. Of course, Proust refuses to spell it out for us, and in In a Budding Grove he once again overturns the function of the little phrase as he writes that Odette has liberated Swann from his bourgeois ambitions. And then again, this is probably one of Proust’s ironies.

Anyway, something happens with the Vinteuil sonata in In a Budding Grove. Or rather, something happens to the narrator. Odette plays the sonata for him, and the alluring power of the music starts to work on him. Not primarily through the little phrase – the sonata makes no great impression on him by the first hearing. But he reveals, in the narration of this episode, how this music would affect him later in life. To find the fruition of the seed sown that morning by Odette’s piano, we have to leap three books ahead, to The Captive. For the narrator, it is not the sonata, but the Septet that will yield existential experience. We register an important discrepancy between Swann and the narrator: Where music in the former induces a love that harbors his downfall, it becomes the redeeming factor for the latter’s calling as a writer. Swann does not fulfill his life’s mission, he throws away his ideals and intellectual capacities to live a lazy and laidback life – in a form of inverted ascesis that Proust describes at length. The narrator, on the other hand, gets his Great Work off the ground. And it is of course tempting to imagine the result as the very book you are holding in your hands.

For the narrator, music becomes a redeeming power. The musical semiologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez has presented a speculation on this theme in his study Proust Musicien. Nattiez describes how In Search of Lost Time is modeled on Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, based on the legend of the Holy Grail. I have already mentioned how the narrator assumes Swann’s mission, as it were, through music. This mirrors how Parsifal fulfills the task that Amfortas fails to accomplish, because he is caught up in the snares of love. The narrator is also, like Parsifal, obstructed in his mission. He falls into the Budding Grove of girls, similar to how Parsifal is delayed by the ‘Flower Maidens’. In book III, The Guermantes Way, the illusion of romantic love is broken by Albertine’s kiss – like Parsifal, who understands the mystery of the Grail after having been kissed by Kundry. Even the name Swann has a familiar ring to it, when we think of how Parsifal must kill a swan on his way to Monsalvat and the Grail. This could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here, after mentioning that it is Gurnemanz that leads Parsifal into Monsalvat. The likeness to Guermantes, the family where the narrator receives his music-related epiphany, is of course no coincidence.

Proust was, like many artists of his day, deeply influenced by Wagner. Wagner’s philosophy of art is closing in on religion, both in expression and function. Art becomes a frame for existential meaning and transcendence, a feeling that was strong also in Proust. On a more material level we find Wagner’s influence of Proust primarily through Der Ring des Nibelungen – or The Ring, as Wagnerians like to call it. Wagner’s goal was the total work of art – Das gesamtkunstwerk – that integrates all strands of art into one, grand and unified vision. The Ring is a cycle of operas spanning four evenings, based on Norse and Germanic mythology and the heroic epic poem Das Nibelungenlied. The very short version goes like this: a story about gods, heroes and mythological figures wrangling over a magic ring that gives the bearer world dominion. During four grand operas, to a libretto written by Wagner himself, a unified artwork size XXL is created.

Where the French music has been occupied with the brilliance of detail, depicted beautifully in the little phrase, Wigner is all about large-scale form. One of his big inventions was the leitmotif, a technique where all the protagonists of the drama have their own musical motto, themes and motives that follow them. The leitmotifs are constantly recurring and changing, emerging in new formations producing new layers of meaning. This technique is close to Proust’s own way of writing, where recurring themes are perpetually renewed in changing constellations. The little phrase becomes the leitmotif for Swann’s love.
The Ring is exemplary as a self-sufficient fictional universe, closed around its own motivic cores. Simultaneously, it points towards the unfinished and processual, with its ‘never-ending melodies’ constantly trying to evade the entrapment of the cadences of tonality. In its draft form the structure of In Search of Lost Time was far more unified and symmetrical than the published version; in addition, the last three volumes were published posthumously, edited by Proust’s brother, so the work is essentially unfinished. In the last volumes the logic is occasionally frayed, information is doubled up and strange footnotes testify to the work-in-progress, like a bug in the software. This opens up a space for interpretation – the last volumes could probably have been edited differently – an interpretational potential we might compare to what an opera director faces when confronting Wagner’s scores. Not because the scores have the same air of the unfinished, but because the operatic work in its very essence is unfinished; it must always be created anew for each new staging.
In several passages Proust describes how his working methods echo Wagner. He points to how Wagner wrote the redemptive Good Friday music for Parsifal twenty years before he wrote the opera itself (this has turned out to be a misinterpretation of music history, but that is of lesser importance. Harold Bloom said that artists invent its predecessors, a phrase we can safely apply to Proust, who modulated Wagner’s poetics for his own needs.) In comparison, Proust wrote the text about the flagstones at Guermantes before the famous Madeleine-text, even though the two are placed at opposite ends of four thousand pages of text. Again, we return to questions of time and causality, and how the mnemonic work (and the work of art) can suspend these categories.

With the long passages on art, music and literature, we can regard In Search of Lost Time as a Gesamtkunstwerk in Wagner’s spirit. Also architecture, fashion and gastronomy are weaved into this total vision of the world – from Proust’s privileged vantage point in a certain time, a certain place, a certain environment. But where Wagner’s world is staged in a visual and acoustical space, even with the monumental building of Bayreuth erected for its enshrinement, Proust’s work is created for our inner stage. And on this stage, the overwhelming littleness and undeniable greatness of mankind, our myriads of mistakes and flaws and our potential for love and joy become as real to us as our physical surroundings.

  • Eivind Buene

III

We tend to regard life-changing, art-related experiences as a good thing. A change for the better, a personal development. Swann’s development is also positively described, initially. But after a while this unambiguous drive is lost, and towards the end of “Swann in Love” Proust describes the love for Odette, through Swann’s (not unfounded) jealousy, as a disease. This does of course inflict the way we hear the little phrase; music is no longer merely a force that opens up new spaces in Swann’s interior life – it is a door opener for resignation and decline. Swann and Odette are married in In a Budding Grove. But we already know that Swann marries Odette when he no longer loves her, and we understand that his life’s ambitions, his Vermeer-studies, his high standards, are lost in this combination of triumph and sacrifice. Of course, Proust refuses to spell it out for us, and in In a Budding Grove he once again overturns the function of the little phrase as he writes that Odette has liberated Swann from his bourgeois ambitions. And then again, this is probably one of Proust’s ironies.

Anyway, something happens with the Vinteuil sonata in In a Budding Grove. Or rather, something happens to the narrator. Odette plays the sonata for him, and the alluring power of the music starts to work on him. Not primarily through the little phrase – the sonata makes no great impression on him by the first hearing. But he reveals, in the narration of this episode, how this music would affect him later in life. To find the fruition of the seed sown that morning by Odette’s piano, we have to leap three books ahead, to The Captive. For the narrator, it is not the sonata, but the Septet that will yield existential experience. We register an important discrepancy between Swann and the narrator: Where music in the former induces a love that harbors his downfall, it becomes the redeeming factor for the latter’s calling as a writer. Swann does not fulfill his life’s mission, he throws away his ideals and intellectual capacities to live a lazy and laidback life – in a form of inverted ascesis that Proust describes at length. The narrator, on the other hand, gets his Great Work off the ground. And it is of course tempting to imagine the result as the very book you are holding in your hands.

For the narrator, music becomes a redeeming power. The musical semiologist Jean-Jacques Nattiez has presented a speculation on this theme in his study Proust Musicien. Nattiez describes how In Search of Lost Time is modeled on Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal, based on the legend of the Holy Grail. I have already mentioned how the narrator assumes Swann’s mission, as it were, through music. This mirrors how Parsifal fulfills the task that Amfortas fails to accomplish, because he is caught up in the snares of love. The narrator is also, like Parsifal, obstructed in his mission. He falls into the Budding Grove of girls, similar to how Parsifal is delayed by the ‘Flower Maidens’. In book III, The Guermantes Way, the illusion of romantic love is broken by Albertine’s kiss – like Parsifal, who understands the mystery of the Grail after having been kissed by Kundry. Even the name Swann has a familiar ring to it, when we think of how Parsifal must kill a swan on his way to Monsalvat and the Grail. This could go on for a while, but I’ll stop here, after mentioning that it is Gurnemanz that leads Parsifal into Monsalvat. The likeness to Guermantes, the family where the narrator receives his music-related epiphany, is of course no coincidence.

Proust was, like many artists of his day, deeply influenced by Wagner. Wagner’s philosophy of art is closing in on religion, both in expression and function. Art becomes a frame for existential meaning and transcendence, a feeling that was strong also in Proust. On a more material level we find Wagner’s influence of Proust primarily through Der Ring des Nibelungen – or The Ring, as Wagnerians like to call it. Wagner’s goal was the total work of art – Das gesamtkunstwerk – that integrates all strands of art into one, grand and unified vision. The Ring is a cycle of operas spanning four evenings, based on Norse and Germanic mythology and the heroic epic poem Das Nibelungenlied. The very short version goes like this: a story about gods, heroes and mythological figures wrangling over a magic ring that gives the bearer world dominion. During four grand operas, to a libretto written by Wagner himself, a unified artwork size XXL is created.

Where the French music has been occupied with the brilliance of detail, depicted beautifully in the little phrase, Wigner is all about large-scale form. One of his big inventions was the leitmotif, a technique where all the protagonists of the drama have their own musical motto, themes and motives that follow them. The leitmotifs are constantly recurring and changing, emerging in new formations producing new layers of meaning. This technique is close to Proust’s own way of writing, where recurring themes are perpetually renewed in changing constellations. The little phrase becomes the leitmotif for Swann’s love.
The Ring is exemplary as a self-sufficient fictional universe, closed around its own motivic cores. Simultaneously, it points towards the unfinished and processual, with its ‘never-ending melodies’ constantly trying to evade the entrapment of the cadences of tonality. In its draft form the structure of In Search of Lost Time was far more unified and symmetrical than the published version; in addition, the last three volumes were published posthumously, edited by Proust’s brother, so the work is essentially unfinished. In the last volumes the logic is occasionally frayed, information is doubled up and strange footnotes testify to the work-in-progress, like a bug in the software. This opens up a space for interpretation – the last volumes could probably have been edited differently – an interpretational potential we might compare to what an opera director faces when confronting Wagner’s scores. Not because the scores have the same air of the unfinished, but because the operatic work in its very essence is unfinished; it must always be created anew for each new staging.
In several passages Proust describes how his working methods echo Wagner. He points to how Wagner wrote the redemptive Good Friday music for Parsifal twenty years before he wrote the opera itself (this has turned out to be a misinterpretation of music history, but that is of lesser importance. Harold Bloom said that artists invent its predecessors, a phrase we can safely apply to Proust, who modulated Wagner’s poetics for his own needs.) In comparison, Proust wrote the text about the flagstones at Guermantes before the famous Madeleine-text, even though the two are placed at opposite ends of four thousand pages of text. Again, we return to questions of time and causality, and how the mnemonic work (and the work of art) can suspend these categories.

With the long passages on art, music and literature, we can regard In Search of Lost Time as a Gesamtkunstwerk in Wagner’s spirit. Also architecture, fashion and gastronomy are weaved into this total vision of the world – from Proust’s privileged vantage point in a certain time, a certain place, a certain environment. But where Wagner’s world is staged in a visual and acoustical space, even with the monumental building of Bayreuth erected for its enshrinement, Proust’s work is created for our inner stage. And on this stage, the overwhelming littleness and undeniable greatness of mankind, our myriads of mistakes and flaws and our potential for love and joy become as real to us as our physical surroundings.

  • Eivind Buene

INSPIRATION: David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest

“Some books just sweep you away and change not only the way you read, but the texture of the world.

David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest does that. Spanning some 1079 dense pages (including 388 footnotes) it is a brilliant brick of a book about addiction, solipsism and entertainment. And tennis.
The complexities and conundrums of the narrative structure appeal to me – maybe composers have a certain predisposition for that – but it is also a deeply tragic and extremely funny book. And this mediation between cerebral complexity and unguarded emotion is something I always appreciate in a work of art.” – EB

INSPIRATION: Improvisation

“In my teens I was very much into Afro-American music, and played funk and soul at the weekends while studying composition on the weekdays.

I also listened a lot to free jazz, and the febrility and complexity in this music is something that influenced my early pieces a lot.
I also engaged in collaborations with improvising musicians like Christian Wallumrød. Nowadays he’s more into composition and chamber music, but his Fender Rhodes playing has always been tremendously inspirational to me. One of his bands are Close Erase, and their Dance This is a combo of free funk and improv that really makes you want to dance in strange ways” – EB

INSPIRATION: Sophie Calle

“Through her personal blend of life-stories, literature and visual arts, Sophie Calle creates situations where fiction and reality rubs up against one another.

A favourite exhibition is Appointment, her intervention in The Freud museum where she inserted her own feminine (indeed feminist) touch into Sigmund Freud’s study in Camden. This approach of intervention has informed my own work with the canon of western music, in pieces like ‘Standing Stones’ and Johannes Brahms ‘Klarinetten-Trio’.” – EB

RECOMMENDED VIEWING: Lars von Trier – Riget

“In a time when everybody raves about TV-series being the new novel (which of course is a lie), Lars von Trier’s seminal Riget is still a masterwork of the genre” – EB

INSPIRATION: Tennis

“Mondays between 19:00 and 20:00 is holy time to me. That’s when I have my tennis lessons.

I started playing some years ago, and I got completely addicted. As David Foster Wallace said, it’s the perfect combination of chess and boxing.

Like with other sports I’m a terrible spectator, I don’t even watch the finals of French Open or Wimbledon. But when it comes to playing, I go all in.

They say it takes seven years to acquire a decent technique, and I’m working on it. It’s like learning to play an instrument. You work and work on minute details, and suddenly, your body masters something new.

And yes, I started to play after having read Infinite Jest. – EB

RECOMMENDED READING: Stig Larsson – Autisterna

“I have no idea why I am so attracted to this slim, Swedish novel from 1979. It’s just a thing that has stayed with me since the first time I read it fifteen years ago.
Maybe the opening page renders the uncanny beauty of this book: The narrator is in the kitchen, baking a cake, and via a childhood memory, a meditation on death and a baroque cake recipe he arrives at this declaration of love:

“Det er for deg jeg har laget den. Bare for deg. For at jeg i løpet av en hel dag skal ha forberedt hva du i noen få sekunder skal ha i munnen, for at jeg skal kunne kjenne deg i denne forfinede møljen, ikke bare ganen og tennene dine, også halsen, spres ut i din like så myke som harde kropp, delta i dine kariesdannelser, inngå i avføringen din, med den fordele kunnskapen min i cellene dine, for å ha en viss delaktighet selv i de porene jeg aldri skal få røre ved”” – EB

INSPIRATION: Brahms Requiem

“My relation to Brahms’ Requiem is totally sentimental. It was the first piece of classical music that really hit me, when I was sixteen and discovered a whole new world of sound.

Here’s a short fragment that maybe explains my love for Brahms’ Requiem…”
– EB

Brahms in the locker room

Early on you learn to live parallel lives. You are one person with your parents, another at school. A third with your friends, a fourth with your girlfriend. And when you’re alone with yourself, who are you then? Some people think about this a great deal. Others just play along; you are who you are, that’s obvious.

But so even though you talk to God and love Afro-American music, you suddenly discover classical music. And it’s digging into you, a groove that becomes deeper, broader, opens up a world that fascinates you more every day, from that freshman year in high school when you start to understand the difference between baroque and classicism, between renaissance and romanticism.

Not only do you learn to listen to the music, you learn to read it, to play it, to sing it. Suddenly you find yourself immersed in a choir, and in a semicircle in front of you there’s an orchestra, and on the music stands and in the choristers hands are the parts to Johannes Brahms Requiem, composed in 1868 and chosen as the project for your high school choir together with the local community orchestra, you are sixteen and the whole autumn you drill the choir parts, and it is with the greatest pleasure you discover how every voice, however fragile and unassuming in itself, how they accumulate to the most wondrous harmonic colours and eruptive cascades of counterpoint, and you realize that this is music, like you’ve never heard music before, you are immersed in the sound, and to you it’s like hearing the Berlin Philharmonic, but it’s only a small-town amateur orchestra and a bunch of kids from the surrounding villages, and the local church is jam-packed in neo-gothic splendour with parents and siblings and ordinary locals and you remember thinking that never has a sound like this befallen this town.

The fugues were your favourites, and you and your classmates sang the tenor and bass parts in the shower after gym, your voices reverberating magnificently among the shiny tiles of the locker room, and Brahms’ Requiem became a sing-along-favourite, maybe because it was the first classical love for many of you, and you were singing and singing through first and second grade, and even far into third grade, after both Verdi’s Requiem and Bruckner’s Te Deum and Grieg’s Four Psalms and even Fartein Valens crazy motets are mastered and performed, someone could start singing a snippet from Brahms and everyone would fall in, just like that, the most natural thing to do together, all of you standing there, naked, singing, while water is gushing over your skinny, post pubertal selves.

And when it’s time for the final exams you have already made classical music your own, and adult life is looming on the horizon with a strangely alluring glow, and you have already passed the auditions to the Music Academy in the capital, and you have no idea what it means to make music your livelihood, but you know: It’s the only thing you want. – EB

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