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Untwisting the Serpent

Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts

From its dissonant musics to its surrealist spectacles (the urinal is a violin!), Modernist art often seems to give more frustration than pleasure to its audience. In Untwisting the Serpent, Daniel Albright shows that this perception arises partly because we usually consider each art form in isolation, even though many of the most important artistic experiments of the Modernists were collaborations involving several media—Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is a ballet, Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts is an opera, and Pablo Picasso turned his cubist paintings into costumes for Parade.

Focusing on collaborations with a musical component, Albright views these works as either figures of dissonance that try to retain the distinctness of their various media (e.g. Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Mamelles de Tirésias) or figures of consonance that try to lose themselves in some total effect (e.g. Arnold Schoenberg’s Erwartung). In so doing he offers a fresh picture of Modernism, and provides a compelling model for the analysis of all artistic collaborations.

Untwisting the Serpent is the recipient of the 2001 Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship of the Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M University.

410 pages | 25 halftones, 12 line drawings, 60 musical examples | 6 x 9 | © 2000

Art: Art--General Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Music: General Music

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Musical Examples
Introduction: Laocoon Revisited
Lessing and Horace
Babbitt and Greenberg
Apollo and Marsyas
Kokoschka’s Morder, Hoffnung der Frauen
Hindemith’s Morder, Hoffnung der Frauen
Aesthetic Paradoxes
Modernism, Historical and Transhistorical
Pt. 1 - Figures of Consonance among the Arts
1. Hieroglyph
Mozart’s The Magic Flute
Perlocution and Epigram: Liszt and Wagner
Rapee’s Dictionary of Silent Film Music and the Leitmotiv
Wagner and the Origin of Music
Eye Music
Stravinsky’s Renard and Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko
2. Ideogram
Pound, Fenollosa, and the Chinese Character
3. NohPound, Fenollosa, Yeats, and Michio Ito
Unnatural Nature: Kleist and Mallarme
Structure of the Noh Play
Pound’s Tristan
The Pisan Cantos as a Noh Play
The Pisan Cantos as an Opera
Britten’s Curlew River and Sumidagawa
4. Gestus
Dalcroze Exercises
Nijinsky, Nijinska, and The Rite of Spring
Lessing’s Theory of Gestus
Rousseau and Gesticulation
Weill’s Theory of Gestus
Brecht’s Theory of Gestus
Farragoes: Mann ist Mann and The Threepenny Opera
Ruined Wishes: Jenny and Lilian
Inscriptive Tetrachords
Brecht’s Photograms
5. Villonaud
Text-Embezzling in The Threepenny Opera
Pound’s Le testament: Troubadour Imitations
Le testament: Speech as Music
Schoenberg’s Erwartung and the Rejection of Sequence
Wagner on Schopenhauer
The Semantics of Erwartung
Le testament: Rhythmic Complexity, Melodic Simplicity
6. Noh, Again
Der Jasager: Teaching Acquiescence
Icons of Trudge and Gluck’s Hell
Tragedy in Music: Plaint vs. Wall
The Chill of Hieroglyphs
Weill’s Epitaph
Pt. 2 - Figures of Dissonance among the Arts
7. Loop
Parade: Whorls in Picasso’s Designs
Circular Skits
Satie’s Furniture Music as a Barrier against Expression
Property Trees That Don’t Convulse
Cocteau’s Unspoken Text
8. Cube
Rimbaud’s "Parade"
Cubism and the Letter K
Picasso’s Managers: Life inside a Cubist Painting
Metaphors for Cubes in Satie’s Music
Ballet realiste and Visual Collage
Intonarumori: Russolo and Boccioni
9. Loop, Again
Non-synchronicity in Silent Films
The American Girl’s Spoof of The Perils of Pauline
Film Loops in Saint-Saen’s L’assassinat du duc de Guise
Relache: Clair’s Entr’acte cinematographique as a Film Loop
Relache: Segment Construction and Master Bars in Satie’s Score
Antheil’s Ballet Mecanique: The Big Foot
The Leger-Murphy Film of Ballet Mecanique: Cinematic Abstraction
10. Surrealism (Literature and Art)
Apollinaire’s Coining of the Word Surrealism
Apollinaire’s Les mamelles de Tiresias
Simultanism: Verbal Polyphony
Surrealism as a Codified Style: Breton’s Land of Unlikeness
Lautreamont’s Tryst of Sewing Machine and Umbrella
11. Surrealism (Music)
The Cocteau-Milhaud Le boeuf sur le toit: Nothing Happens
The Cocteau-Les Six Les maries de la Tour Eiffel
Dadaist Music: Schwitters and Duchamp
Allusion in the Music of Les maries de la Tour Eiffel
Stravinsky as Fagin
The Jacob-Poulenc Le bal masque
The Eluard-Poulenc Un soir de neige: Theft from Rave
Poulenc’s Setting of Les mamelles de Tiresias
Voice-Traning Lessons
12. Heaven
Temporal Images of the Timeless
Transfiguration in Strauss, Faure, and Elgar
Stein, Automatic Writing, and Dali
Stein’s Early "Psychological" Style: The Making of Americans
Stein’s Objective Style: Tender Buttons
Stein’s An Elucidation: Discourse Vanishing into Visual Pattern
The Land of Unlikeness, Revisited
Stein’s Landscape Style: Drama without a Story
Landscape Grammar
Four Saints in Three Acts: An Opera with No Acts
Heavenly Reconfigurings of Position
Counting for Counting’s Sake
Thomson’s Early Stein Settings: Susie Asado, Capital Capitals
Thomson’s Discipline of Spontaneity
Four Saints: Consonant Harmony, Dissonant Syntax
Counting for Counting’s Sake, in Music
Grosser’s Scenario for Four Saints: Imposing Narrative on the Inenarrable
Stettheimer’s Stage Set: The Knickknack Shelf Enlarged
Thomson’s Theory of Incidental Music
Voice-Training Lessons, Again
Works Cited
Photo Credits


Center for Humanities Research, Texas A&M: Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship

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