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Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?

Owen Woodson 17 Sep 09 - 09:50 AM
manitas_at_work 17 Sep 09 - 10:22 AM
Will Fly 17 Sep 09 - 10:25 AM
MGM·Lion 17 Sep 09 - 01:15 PM
SteveMansfield 17 Sep 09 - 02:44 PM
Jack Campin 17 Sep 09 - 05:26 PM
GUEST,EricTheOrange 18 Sep 09 - 03:11 AM
MGM·Lion 18 Sep 09 - 03:37 AM
MGM·Lion 18 Sep 09 - 04:09 AM
Azizi 18 Sep 09 - 08:24 PM
Owen Woodson 20 Sep 09 - 07:06 AM
MGM·Lion 20 Sep 09 - 07:22 AM
Jack Campin 20 Sep 09 - 08:03 AM
MGM·Lion 20 Sep 09 - 09:00 AM
Owen Woodson 20 Sep 09 - 11:07 AM
meself 20 Sep 09 - 11:19 AM
SteveMansfield 20 Sep 09 - 12:20 PM
MGM·Lion 20 Sep 09 - 12:38 PM
GUEST,Arthur Stiffy 20 Sep 09 - 12:48 PM
Jack Campin 20 Sep 09 - 06:35 PM
McGrath of Harlow 21 Sep 09 - 06:56 PM
Thompson 22 Sep 09 - 04:41 PM
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Subject: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 09:50 AM

In his novel, the picture of Dorian Grey, Wilde spends some time discussing Grey's capacity for the hedonistic worship of the senses. It contains the following passage.

"....... in a long latticed room, with a vermilion-and-gold ceiling and walls of olive-green lacquer, he used to give curious concerts in which mad gipsies tore wild music from little zithers, or grave, yellow-shawled Tunisians plucked at the strained strings of monstrous lutes, while grinning Negroes beat monotonously upon copper drums and, crouching upon scarlet mats, slim turbaned Indians blew through long pipes of reed or brass and charmed--or feigned to charm--great hooded snakes and horrible horned adders. The harsh intervals and shrill discords of barbaric music stirred him at times when Schubert's grace, and Chopin's beautiful sorrows, and the mighty harmonies of Beethoven himself, fell unheeded on his ear."

This passage puzzles me, not least because of the lack of public knowledge of ethnic music during the time Wilde wrote the book. However, while Wilde could have got the musical descriptions from some anthropological journal or travellers' memoirs, the suggestion is that Grey was holding these concerts in London.

Before I dismiss the idea as pure fantasy, does anyone know of any way that these sounds could have been heard live in London at that time?


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: manitas_at_work
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 10:22 AM

London has had various enclaves of immigrants almost from it's foundation. I'm sure these sounds could have been heard from buskers and in various coffee houses, inns and opium dens. These days you can hear the same stuff not 200 yards from me albeit mostly belted out on radios and sound systems rather than played live.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Will Fly
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 10:25 AM

There were all manner of visiting troupes of performers and exhibitions and other amusements in London at that time. W.S. Gilbert's "Mikado" was famously inspired by a Japanese exhibition and, in addition to visiting attractions, there were exotic entertainments at the various halls and theatres, such as those put on by Maskelyne & Devant. So - quite possible.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 01:15 PM

The really interesting thing to me about this passage is the way that Oscar appeared to equate being a World-Folkie, as we might put it, with devotion to dope and perversion [as seen in 1891] and potential homicidal tendencies [not much later in the novel that he stabs his friend Basil Hallward to death] — equally with these a part of a perverse hedonist sensualism, the outward manifestation of a vicious inner moral decay.

To us the immorality would lie in its peculiar unthinking *racism*, the idea that any alien sort of musical tradition must be in some soul-shattering way decadent, and a taste for it a symptom of depravity.

Now, OW my dear, what was going on in your little head THERE?


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 02:44 PM

Peter Ackroyd's wonderful book 'London: The Biography' comes up trumps as usual ...


Hector Berlioz, visiting London in the mid-nineteenth century, wrote 'no city in the world' was consumed by so much music ...

There were German bands, as well as Indian drummers and blacked-up 'Abyssinians' who played violin, guitar, tambourine and castanets ...

The cacophony was immense ....


p184-5, Chatto & Windus 2000, ISBN 1856197166


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 17 Sep 09 - 05:26 PM

Perhaps Wilde had been to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London in 1886?

(Incidentally, Ackroyd should not have been given credit for locating that Berlioz quote - he uses research assistants to do all the difficult stuff).

That short passage suggests strongly that Wilde had seen what he describes. I can't imagine Tunisian oud players ever trying to make a living among the London street musicians Berlioz saw, or anybody charming cobras in public without coming to the attention of the police. The occasion must have been of a different kind.

It's a really neat puzzle.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: GUEST,EricTheOrange
Date: 18 Sep 09 - 03:11 AM

It should be borne in mind that at the time London was arguably the foremost city in the world, sitting at the heart of an enormous trading empire. Not only would there have been a wide variety of people from across the world passing through the city, there would have been a lot of rich British people who had spent time living in far flung places.

Put the two together, along with a fashion for entertaining and parties, and it would seem likely that there would be a ready market for exotic entertainers who could perform something different and unusual to entertain your guests.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Sep 09 - 03:37 AM

Yes - but I ask again: why should entertaining one's guests thus have been viewed, as by Wilde in the passage quoted, as decadent and depraved, a symptom of the downward drugs·n·perversion primrose·path that Dorian Gray [note spelling btw] was sliding acceleratingly down? What did he think so wrong with exotic 'Folk·Roots' style entertainment?


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 18 Sep 09 - 04:09 AM

This strikes me as evidence that such entertainments were probably most prevalent among the gay community of the time; one of those badges of 'in'-ness, like green carnations or Beardsley's spectacularly emphatic æestheticism: so that this would be one of Wilde's well-documented coded signals to his circle as to where he {& hence Dorian} were coming from: which, as he knew very well, & rediscovered in most emphatic terms 5 years later, were as far it was safe or expedient to venture in the 1890s.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Azizi
Date: 18 Sep 09 - 08:24 PM

Here's a link to an excerpt from "London: the biography" by Peter Ackroyd.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2001/aug/29/firstchapters.highereducation


It's a fascinating read.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 07:06 AM

Thanks to everyone for some very interesting suggestions. Jack, were there any troupes of ethnic musicians playing at the 1886 exhibition? It would surprise me if the exhibition promoter would go to all the trouble and cost of bringing said musicians over, especially when most of the exhibition visitors wouldn't have a clue what to make of the music.

Overall, I'm left in a quandary. Wilde is clearly describing organised troupes of professional musicians, not itinerant buskers, and I still feel the opportunities for hearing such musicians in Victorian London would have been very slender indeed. On the other hand, he was known to lift pieces of research as background information when the occasion suited him. Indeed, I seem to recall that there are other parts of "The Picture" which have been assembled in just such a way.

My guess therefore is that Wilde may well have heard ethnic musicians at the Great Exhibition, but that he drew the section in question from some early ethnomusicological writing.

Which leads me on to Metro-Goldwyn's suggestion. IE., that the more interesting question is not whether Wilde actually heard these sounds, but why he worked their description into the book. Remember of course that Wilde was writing for effect, not for accuracy. Also, I think TPODG is actually Wilde confronting his own degenerate slide into hell.

If so, what does the fascination with 'barbaric' music represent? Wilde was writing at the height of the British empire. This was a time when anthropologists were assembling bizarre tales of 'backward' savages and hideous practices, in order to argue that these peoples were on lower planes of evolution than we in Western Europe. Most people, hearing these sounds at the time Wilde was describing them, would have concluded that they were indeed degenerate and were indeed made by savage backward people. Therefore, the only people who could be expected to enjoy such sounds would themselves have degenerated to something equally savage barbarism.

Was Wilde offering his own enjoyment of this music as proof of his own degeneracy? I've been racking my brains trying to remember whether he frequented opium dens and I can't. However, the districts of London where opium dens existed would have been the most likely places to have heard 'exotic' musicians. If not the cream of third world court musicians, then certainly their lower class street equivalents.

And it's possible that, even if he was not an opium user, his sexual tastes may well have him to such quarters.

Just a thought in passing. Whilst I love the 'harsh intervals and shrill discords' of third world music, I pity anyone for whom Schubert, Chopin, and the mighty harmonies of Beethoven fall unheeded on the ear. Was the inability to enjoy Beethoven a cause or an effect of DG's descent into his own form of discord?


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 07:22 AM

Just out of interest — you refer to me somewhat facetiously as Metro-Goldwyn: in fact my initials are not purely adventitious: Louis B Mayer was my 1st-cousin-2ce-removed, i.e. my paternal grandfather's first cousin... My family spells the surname Myer; but my Californian now somewhat distant cousins, with one or two of whom I have been in touch over the years, spell it with the 'a'·2nd·letter variation.

Regards - Michael Grosvenor Myer


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 08:03 AM

It occurred to me that one of the most famous inter-cultural encounters in the history of music was when Debussy heard Javanese musicians at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889. And transporting a North African band or some drummers from Zanzibar would be a lot easier than shifting a gamelan. Wilde could have been at the Paris show as well as the London one - maybe somebody could check in a biography?

Wilde was to some extent recycling the ideas of Huysmans's "A Rebours" of 1884, and maybe "La-Bas" if he'd seen it in manuscript (it was published around the same time as TPoDG). I can't remember what des Esseintes's musical tastes were.

This article on music, race and culture in 19th century France might be worth looking at:

http://mq.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/pdf_extract/gdn002v1


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 09:00 AM

The difference surely is that A Rebours was wilful, diffuse, plotless, & hence imo ballsachingly boring; OW took some of its concepts and recycled them in TPODG as a coherent, exciting narrative.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Owen Woodson
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 11:07 AM

Jack Campin. "when Debussy heard Javanese musicians at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1889."

I remembered that after I'd posted my previous message. In fact, A.L. Lloyd mentioned it in The Savage in The Concert Hall.

MtheGM. "Just out of interest — you refer to me somewhat facetiously as Metro-Goldwyn".

Sorry Mike, I couldn't resist that one. An interesting family connection though.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: meself
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 11:19 AM

Owen, it strikes me that you have a bit of a naive perception of Victorian London, if I may say so. In the 19th century, as now, there were all kinds of troupes of all kinds of entertainers travelling the world, and the more exotic, the better, so to speak. Impresios scoured the world for the new and bizarre, to bring to public theatres as well as to the salons of the wealthy. As you say, we're talking about the Empire at its height; the stay-at-home portion of the British populace would naturally have a thirst to see in the flesh the strange creatures, persons, and practices of which they had heard so many travellers' tales.

Not to mention that in London there were already - at least such is my impression - communities of people from distant parts of the world. A person with the curiosity may well have had plenty of opportunity to hear 'ethnic' and 'exotic' music.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: SteveMansfield
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 12:20 PM

But .... and I hold my hands up as one of the people who missed the initial slant of the question ...

why should entertaining one's guests thus have been viewed, as by Wilde in the passage quoted, as decadent and depraved, a symptom of the downward drugs·n·perversion primrose·path that Dorian Gray [note spelling btw] was sliding acceleratingly down? What did he think so wrong with exotic 'Folk·Roots' style entertainment?

Because now I've realised what the actual question was - that is, why is that considered decadent, not (as I and others initially took it) was it actually there to be seen at the time, I'd quite like to know the answer too :)


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 12:38 PM

I suggested the answer in my post of 18 Sep, 04.09 — It went with green carnations & Beardsley's flamboyant aestheticism as part of a coded message to the gay community of which OW was a prominent member at the time.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: GUEST,Arthur Stiffy
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 12:48 PM

It seems the word 'Bugger'is derived from an early French word for 'Bulgarian'

Can't know for sure what it was about medieval Bulgarian music
that so upset the French ?

But there, see, it can all be blamed on "World Music" after all.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Jack Campin
Date: 20 Sep 09 - 06:35 PM

Completely irrelevant to the original question, but a quick google for "oscar wilde music" produced this: http://www.threecatsgraphics.com/to_oscar.htm

I'd never have guessed either that such music existed, or that Wilde had any connection with Gilbert & Sullivan.


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 21 Sep 09 - 06:56 PM

Surely you must have come across Patience in which Oscar's Gilberttian personification, Bunthorne, is a central character:

...Though the Philistines may jostle, you will rank
as an apostle in the high aesthetic band,
If you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy
or a lily in your medieval hand.
And ev'ryone will say,
As you walk your flow'ry way,
"If he's content with a vegetable love
which would certainly not suit me,
Why, what a most particularly pure young man
this pure young man must be!"


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Subject: RE: Dorian Grey an ethnomusicologist?
From: Thompson
Date: 22 Sep 09 - 04:41 PM

Wilde's parents, the surgeon and radical journalist William Wilde and Speranza, were collectors of Irish music and folktales, and fluent Irish speakers. Perhaps this is a childhood memory of the people who came to the couple's various homes in Merrion Square (tres classy), Glencree (then recently emptied of its thousands of inhabitants by the Famine) and Connemara.

Apart from their love for Irish culture - regarded by the Empire types of the time as analagous to loving monkeys - the two were artistically and personally radical; William Wilde famously liked to put it about, and was extremely successful in doing so, despite having a reek like a polecat off him due to his dislike of bathing. He was a famous ear surgeon, and I've always wondered if Oscar was so called as a pun on the Latin name for the hearing-engine.

Speranza was kindly disposed towards her husband's other families, and Oscar knew them and loved them; two of his adored sisters burned to death - both were wearing the thin muslin dresses popular at the time, and when one leaned too close to the fire and her dress caught flame, her sister rushed her out into the knee-deep snow and both - both now aflame - rolled in the snow, but they were so badly burned that they died of the injuries.


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