18 December 2010
An Adventure in Romantic Psychedelia
'Mirrors should reflect a little before throwing back images' - Jean Cocteau
When attempting to pair the writings of E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) with the music Robert Schumann (1810-1856), the task presents itself more as a koan for reflection rather than a mathematical problem to be solved. This challenge speaks to the ephemeral qualities of Romanticism in general and most particularly to that quality of Hoffmann and Schumann’s works. The directive from both of these artists is to explore their artistic output on many levels, many dimensions, and go deep into the layers of the human psyche. It is with this spirit that we are presenting a multi-media treatment of Hoffmann’s tale A New Year’s Eve Adventure and Schumann’s music.
A reader of A New Year’s Eve Adventure, or any of Hoffmann’s writings, may spot the shadows of Hoffmann’s characters – their doppelgänger – out of the corner of his eye only to see them vanish in a blink of said eye. Is Giulietta Julia? Is Erasmus Spikher the shadow of Julia’s husband? Is Spikher and the Narrator one and the same? Is the Narrator Hoffmann himself? And the evil conjuror Dr. Dappertutto of this story, the wizard behind Giulietta, does he not find his double in the Judge (Justizrat) from this story or Dr. Coppelius from Sandman? Perhaps you have seen this evil twin Coppelia in balletic form or in Offenbach’s opera Tales of Hoffmann tinkering with his automaton Olympia? Do we see Giuliettas and Dr. Coppelias today in pop culture and even in politics? Do they have their doppelgänger among the Palins and Cheneys of our day? Rather confusing, but then look at the word ‘confusion’: ‘con’ (with) + ‘fusion’ (merging of opposites) = a spinning of the head, sometimes even an explosion. Poof!
This intended confusion or ambiguity pervades 19th c. Romanticism and detours from the neat either/or binary mind-frame which lent perceptual ‘ease’ to the 18th c. Age of Enlightenment, and indeed lends itself all too freely in our present time; whereas a multi-dimensional approach may provide a key to unlocking deeper mysteries. It’s quite astounding that in the early 19th c., Hoffmann delved into subjects which are hot items today: artificial intelligence, robotics, transhumanism, duality and the imbalance of analytic thought over intuition, to name a few. Most germane to tonight’s performance is his prescient view of the human psyche, how modern psyches seem to be separate from both Nature and also the net effects of this separation, i.e., ecological chaos.
Schumann’s music also embraces similar delicious ambiguities, with abrupt shifts and many layers of emotion; he often penned movements of his music with noms de plume – Eusebius (intuitive), Florestan (analytical) and Master Raro (MC). Synaesthesia is accentuated in his music in which Fantasy Pieces reflect emotions prismatically, a literary genre becomes music (Narrated Tales) and a journey into the mysteries of Nature is a trip into the depths of the human psyche (Leiderkreis).
All to be reflected upon . . . -N. Rynston, artistic director