Death in Venice – and Alkan

Byron stood there. Liszt stood there. You’ve probably stood there, and now I have, too.

Bridge of SighsI stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs, 

A palace and a prison at each hand…

And as I was standing there last November, an idea for my 2013 blogposts was born: Death in Venice.

Why? Because it is the bicentenary of the birth of Wagner – who died in Venice. It is the bicentenary of the birth of Verdi – many of whose operas were premiered in Venice. It is a century since the birth of Benjamin Britten, who composed the opera Death in Venice based on the novella of the same name, and whose opera The Turn of the Screw was premiered in Venice, as was a work by another centenary celebrant: Lutoslawski’s Venetian Games. It is a century since the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; both Stravinsky and Diaghilev are buried in Venice.  And because it is the bicentenary of the birth of Alkan, who has nothing whatsoever to do with Venice, and who would, I am sure, be delighted to be ‘outside the box’. He is a one-off.

So this year there will be posts about those composers and some of their works, and on related topics, with Venice as the thread in some of them. I look forward to your company.

  I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
    A palace and a prison on each hand:
    I saw from out the wave her structures rise
    As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:
    A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
    Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
    O'er the far times, when many a subject land
    Looked to the wingéd Lion's marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!

    She looks a sea Cybele, fresh from ocean,
    Rising with her tiara of proud towers
    At airy distance, with majestic motion,
    A ruler of the waters and their powers:
    And such she was--her daughters had their dowers
    From spoils of nations, and the exhaustless East
    Poured in her lap all gems in sparkling showers:
    In purple was she robed, and of her feast
Monarchs partook, and deemed their dignity increased.

    In Venice Tasso's echoes are no more,
    And silent rows the songless gondolier;
    Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,
    And music meets not always now the ear:
    Those days are gone--but Beauty still is here;
    States fall, arts fade--but Nature doth not die,
    Nor yet forget how Venice once was dear,
    The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth, the masque of Italy!

from Childe Harold's Pilgrimage - George Gordon Byron

Venice - Doge's Palace

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8 Responses to Death in Venice – and Alkan

  1. Stephen Iles says:

    I look forward to the journey and am pleased that I went to Venice last year.

  2. I’ve visited Venice three times – the last time for my honeymoon in 1990. I hope to take my son before it disappears into the lagoon. A magical, mystical city with so many artistic associations. Looking forward to your posts, Christine

  3. Pingback: Death in Venice – and Life in Aldeburgh | notesfromapianist

  4. Pingback: ‘He has died with much music still in him…’ | notesfromapianist

  5. Alan McLean says:

    People say that Venice is spoiled, it’s not what it was. Agreed, the sight of those floating tower blocks lording it over St Mark’s is depressing, but it’s easy enough to get away from the tourist hordes and pop into dim churches full of masterpieces by Bellini, Tintoretto, or Carpaccio. I had a morning there last year (I know, but I was between trains) and followed a locally-produced guide based on Henry James’s connections with the city. Of course, ‘The wings of the dove’ was set in the city and is infused with its atmosphere. Hardly a soul in those secret places. Venice – it never disappoints those who value it.

  6. Absolutely -it is an astounding city, full of hidden treasures.

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