What’s Monet have to do with it? 

Guest post written by Nicolás Puyané, author of Liszt Recomposed.

One of the most exciting (and daunting) tasks during the final stages of preparing Liszt Recomposed for publication was getting to decide on the cover image. Apparently, the average reader takes approximately eight seconds to evaluate a book by its cover. So, I wanted to make this one count. Initially, I had thought that a detailed scan of page 6 of the 1843 copyist’s manuscript of ‘Mignon’s Lied’, held in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, would be an ideal image. It is a fascinating document in general, but page 6, in particular, shows Liszt’s numerous methods of correcting a manuscript, including adding dynamics and articulation marks in red pencil, darker ink for correcting notes, and pasting over snippets of manuscript for more elaborate emendations. Seeing as the book is primarily concerned with Liszt’s revision processes and at the heart of the book, in part III, is a series of close readings of his multi-version Lieder this would have been a perfectly adequate solution. And so, it may seem strange to have settled on a handsomely prepared montage by Toni Michelle of four paintings of the Houses of Westminster series by Claude Monet. 

Neither Monet, the location, the medium, the period, or the style have any special connection to Liszt. And yet, it seemed to me, hopefully, an evocative way of creating a visual analogy for the conceptual content of the book. In the book, I follow the example of both composer Ferruccio Busoni and textual scholar John Bryant who maintain that writing (text or musical notation) rather than capturing thought, captures an approximation of thought. In this way no one text can fully encapsulate of represent a work that resides in many texts. Instead, a concept coined by John Bryant, the fluid text, sees a work as residing in all its constituent texts, each one a product of a specific set of circumstances and forces. In this way, we are encouraged to ask why was this particular version of a work created? And what were the circumstances that prompted its creation? When examining Liszt’s Lieder I explored what were the cultural, social, political, and/or personal forces that came to bear on Liszt? Did he have specific singers or venues in mind? Was initial poor reception of the early Lieder a motivating factor in their subsequent revision and publication?  

The fluid text concept prompts us to ask such questions and situate the work within the changing contexts that created its many versions. It moves our concept of a work away from that which would see musical works as closed, unified, and fixed structures that are uniquely identified by their score and where revisions would naturally be seen aesthetic considerations. Which brings us back to the montage of paintings from Houses of Parliament series. Beyond the obvious comparison of Monet also creating many texts (paintings) of his changing subjective point of view on a subject that also changes over time, there is the question of why choose these four paintings and not any of the fifteen others in the series? 

If we were to solely focus on aesthetic considerations, we might suggest that a montage made of nineteen images would be too crowded to make sense of and that the four chosen paintings cover a representative span of time that Monet was engaged with the series. They depict different times of day, seasons and display a variety of brushstrokes and other painting techniques. And so, the four-image montage can be said to encapsulate the diversity found in the series within a single image. However, if we were to consider the broader context in which that image was created, we would take into account that securing the rights to nineteen high resolution images all held by different museums and collections would not be an insubstantial task in and of itself. Therefore, we may also infer that the montage represents the set of museums that are most amenable to having their images used in academic monographs.   

It is this line of inquiry that has informed much of Liszt Recomposed. Moving beyond the confines of a musical score can give a broader perspective that includes the many forces that would have come to bear on a composer during its creation. When numerous texts or versions of a work exist, this is essential to its understanding. 

NICOLÁS J. F. PUYANÉ graduated with a PhD in musicology from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Liszt Recomposed is his first book. 

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