Vinteuil’s sonata

In the spring semester of sophomore year, my friend and I began hosting a radio show on our college station. It ran for an hour on Mondays at 3 p.m., after we had finished our classes for the day and were frequently still reeling from the events of the weekend. The station has since been renovated and moved to a much nicer building, but that semester it was still housed in the shabby basement of a poorly planned former “student center”– which was too far away from the rest of campus to be considered the “center” of anything. We took the hour to play songs we liked in the comforting isolation of that building, and few people listened besides our mothers.

The show ended up being a chronicle of our lives, documented not through words but music. The playlists are saved on my computer, and listening to the songs from each week is as detailed a record as any of what happened to us that spring, and each semester after as we continued the show. Over the space of five semesters, I compiled a soundtrack to my college years.

Towards the end of Swann’s Way, the titular character attends a party, preoccupied with his deteriorating affair with Odette. He is caught off guard when he hears the strains of a piece of music with which he became obsessed at the onset of their romance:

The violin had risen to a series of high notes … And so Swann had had time to understand what was happening and say to himself: ‘It’s the little phrase from Vinteuil’s sontata–I musn’t listen!’, all his memories of the days when Odette had been in love with him, which he had succeeded until that moment in keeping invisible in the depths of his being, deceived by this sudden reflection of a season of love whose sun, they supposed, had dawned again, had awakened from their slumber, had taken wing and risen to sing maddeningly in his ears, without pity for his present desolation, the forgotten strains of happiness (Proust 375)

The music which anchors Swann to that moment in time does not just remind him of “when Odette had been in love with him”; rather, it resurrects the exact emotions he had at that time. In this moment in the text, we as readers are transported back a hundred pages, and the lingering “sounds” of the sonata effectively erase the interloping events and we see clearly that moment preserved in memory. The same thing happens to me when I listen to my old playlists. Each song is tethered to an event, or a person, or simply an emotion for which I don’t have words, and for which the ghosts a song conjures suffice as description enough for the purposes of remembering.

 

 

 

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2 comments on “Vinteuil’s sonata

  1. Taylor Coe says:

    Of course, I’m not much further along than either you (Nora) or Maeve (lost halfway through “Within A Budding Grove”), but I can’t help but feel that the passages in “Swann’s Way” addressing Vinteuil’s mysterious phrase are what I will come away from Proust remembering (and admiring) the most. The way that headdresses music and how we interact with the aesthetics and emotions of music represents a profound truth for me.

    There’s a passage towards the end of “Swann’s Way” (I think? I don’t have the copy with me…) in which Proust remarks – I’m paraphrasing, of course – that great, affecting music puts him in mind of a kind of universal range of tones and sounds, of which the composer has chosen only a few to create a remarkable, highly memorable moment. Thanks for reminding me of Vinteuil’s phrase…making a Monday a little less Monday-ish.

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