The Writings of the Young Marcel Proust (1885-1900): An Ideological Critique

By Frank Rosengarten | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

With Reynaldo Hahn
in Town and Country

Eros and friendship were both important in the relationship between Proust and Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947). Their sexual intimacy lasted for approximately a year, from June 1894, when they met at the Paris residence of Madeleine Lemaire, 1 to the summer of 1895, when mutual jealousy and resentment led to their breakup as lovers. Hahn's place was quickly taken by seventeen-year-old Lucien Daudet. 2 However, the friendship between Proust and Hahn endured until the former's death in 1922. The two men shared many interests, collaborated artistically in various ways, stimulated each other intellectually, enjoyed touring the countryside and the seaside together, and had a whole social world in common, the world of the Parisian salons, cafés, concert halls, museums, art galleries, theatres, and opera houses. They also complemented each other in an artistically productive way. In a letter of May 1895 to Suzette Lemaire, Madeleine's daughter, Proust spoke of this aspect of his relationship with Hahn. While he, primarily a man of letters, believed that music was in essence “infinite” in its ability to touch the soul, and that it existed in an autonomous and superior realm of its own, Hahn conceived of music as an adjunct to the word, to thought; for him music was the handmaiden to poetry, or more generally to feelings and thoughts as articulated by the human voice. In other words, Proust concluded, Hahn was a “literary musician,” while he, Proust, tried to infuse something of the “infinite” power of music into literary expression (Corr. 1: 388-391). It was because of this complementarity that Proust gladly entrusted Hahn with the task of writing piano accompaniments to poems he wrote on four composers and four painters, the scores of which were published, along with the poems, in the original 1896 edition of PJ.

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