Until last week I hadn’t peered into Marcel Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu (familiarly known in Shakespearean English as Remembrance of Things Past for reasons known only to Proust’s first translator, C.K. Scott Moncrieff) since college days, save to check the odd quote from time to time. Don’t ask me why, but when I flew my Upper West Side coop for a couple of days of silence and sunshine by the Hudson River, I tossed the first installment of the Modern Library’s 1934 two-volume omnibus edition of A la recherche into my shoulder bag. I cracked it open as I sat by the river, and since then I haven’t looked back.
No sooner did I return to Manhattan than I was filled with an irresistible desire to listen to the piece of music that is the real-life model for the imaginary sonata by M. Vinteuil with whose “little phrase” the narrator of A la recherche is obsessed (and which is the subject of today’s almanac entry). If you’ve read George Painter’s biography of Proust, you know what it is. If not, read on, bearing in mind that Reynaldo Hahn, the musician referred to below, was Proust’s lover:
Reynaldo’s traditionalism was no doubt salutary for himself, but would only have been disastrous for Proust: it could never have led to the invention of Vinteuil. To please Reynaldo he did his best to like Saint-Sa