The collage pays homage to John Ashbery’s poem “The Enthusiasts” in the volume Breezeway. Ashbery has an uncanny ability to interleaf the elegiac with wistful humor. Perhaps it’s nothing more than understanding life and living for what it is, a series of unaccountable moments that may add up to something or may not, but just the same combine to limn a life.
Franz Liszt, La lugubre gondola (1882-85)
On Spotify (S200/1 and 2)
Ashbery’s poem includes a reference to “the lugubrious gondola,” more than enough to give rise to an association with Liszt’s late piano work:
It is December 1882, and another composer in his early seventies is staying with his daughter and her family in Venice. Richard Wagner, the son in law, is renting the entire principal floor of the Palazzo Vendramin, and though accommodation has to be found for the children, their tutors, the servants, and two gondoliers, there is room for Liszt. Familiar with Rome, Liszt is fascinated by Venice, and fascinated especially by Venetian funerals: the black-draped coffins ferried by gondola over the glugging gray lagoon to the cemetery island of San Michele. Perhaps alternating at the piano with Wagner, who has thoughts of turning from Parsifal to a symphony, he sets down a composition: La Lugubre Gondola. Two months later, Wagner will die in his Venetian palace, and Liszt will come to see the piece as a premonition, leaving us the possibility of Wagner having overheard, from another room, a foretaste of the final canal journey that was indeed to take his lifeless body from the palazzo to the railway station, for the return to Bayreuth.
There are three versions of the piece, of which La Lugubre Gondola II is the second, which might make sense, except that La Lugubre Gondola I is the third (and quite different). What Liszt originally wrote remained unpublished until recently; La Lugubre Gondola II is a revision, dating from January 1883 and published in 1885. An introduction in dialogue prefaces the main material, which is a death song heard in several transformations, finally as disintegrating melody without accompaniment. [citation]
The score of La Lugubre Gondola II (S. 200/2), a page of which is included in the collage, may be found here.
Credits: The text in the collage is the title of the Ashbery poem to which the collage relates. The image and underlying collage, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.