I was in Provence, it was summer, and I was despondent. Assigned to search among the
stately old houses for lost manuscripts, in particular for any signs of that lost (or destroyed)
symphonic poem by Ernest Chausson, Solitude dans le Bois, I had adopted the garb of a
medieval troubadour in the hope that it would open to me the doors of that noble but
somewhat guarded civilization. Unfortunately I had underestimated the cynicism of its
modern day inhabitants, and overestimated their sense of their own glorious history as the
birthplace of courtly love: in short, I was misunderstood, mocked in my festive red costume
as "Robin Hood" (though "Will Scarlet" would have been more apt), and even followed with
suspicion by the local police.
My melancholy state, consequently, is easy to imagine, especially if you combine such
misadventures with the futility of my professional endeavors: I found nothing. But to all
these frustrations must be added another circumstance, of a most personal nature which,
conspiring with those worries already mentioned, cast me into deepest gloom:
It was our 300th anniversary.
In August of 1708, as a young man nearing the end of his seminary training in my native
Italy, eager to embark on a dual mission of composing music to the glory of God while (with
the aid of music's charms) converting the swarthy Indians of the New World to the true
faith, I, then known as Domenico Zipoli, found myself with a little time on my hands, and
betook me to that same southern France. And it was there that I first set eyes on the
beautiful maid whose ravishing glance called forth from my heart a melody - naive,
awkward, fragile as a doe - unlike the pious hymns of my intended career - a maid whose
image I would rediscover across the ocean as a heathen princess, whose soul I've sensed
in countless incarnations through the long years that have followed my stumbling on,
drinking, bathing in the accursed Fountain of Youth.
So I was reflecting on her, on the bane of immortality, on the forms in which I've found her,
and on the sundry shapes that melody has taken as I attempted, in the face of eternal
frustration but fired by unquenchable hope, to capture her elusive spirit in tone, across
continents, centuries, and upheavals political, geological and stylistic.
Then, being sad and in France, I thought of Baudelaire. There was something I read,
long ago...I found a copy of Fleurs du Mal, I skimmed through, and eventually I came to:
Derriere les ennuis et les vastes chagrins
Qui chargent de leur poids l'existence brumeuse,
Heureux celui qui peut d'une aile vigoureuse
S'elancer vers les champs lumineux et sereins...
"Above the boredoms and the vast chagrins
That charge our fogged existence with their spleen..."
I felt my soul gliding, soaring: the world, so beautiful and good, I embraced in my heart,
the more fully for having risen above its weight and woes.
In overflowing gratitude I turned to the piano, wishing to pour out in sound this frothy
effervescence of joy. There, on the music rack, sat a copy of Ofterdingen's Blue Flower. I
began to play. And before my eyes the notes were instantaneously
transformed, like so many quantum particles, altered by the act of my observation. What
sounds were these, and what feelings? The music sang of transcendence, but in a French
style, and utilized a pantheistic nature-scale with raised fourths and flatted sevenths, a
flexible rhythm, a lightness of touch, the very "language of voiceless things."
Elevation indeed - but how should I understand this epiphany? As the Blue Flower
transformed, as Romanticism purged of murky metaphysics, a veritable Fleur Bleu for
which sensuous charm is spiritual essence? Or as another, involuntary variation on that
melody I've been making and remaking since I met that maid? - Note the relation of this
music to the Fountain of Youth Trio, and witness both the undeniable (if unconscious)
thematic similarity and the equally telling difference in style. Or again, in this magical,
timeless land, have I been granted a ghostly reminiscence, or an intimation of greater
things to come: is this little piece but a hint of that grand, mysterious Chausson symphony
that lies buried, silent and irretrievable as the artist himself who, prematurely torn from life
in a cruel accident, I imagine stumbling among unknown vistas, seeking some bright place
where perhaps unicorns wander, and troubadours are seen for what they're worth, and
where the subtleties of courtly love are cultivated undisturbed alike by old religious
bigotries and secular vulgarity, where a man can pluck and sniff a flower in the deep
woods' solitude - even a man in scarlet tights, as he soars on vigorous wing, above the vast
chagrins induced by his critics, his detractors, his colleagues, adversaries, ex-girlfriend,
nasty Uncle Lou, even above the snorting hound that hovers ceaselessly, threateningly,
about the person of his lovely next-door neighbor, thwarting his earnest and honorable
efforts to introduce himself in song! May this little fleur serve as his courtly calling-card.