The trio that I alluded to in last week’s blog is a project and commission proposed to me by Maria Barnas, a Dutch writer, poet, and artist at the AAR. She has become fascinated by Stendhal’s Syndrome and has enlisted several artists in diverse fields to create works dealing with this idea.
Named after Stendhal, who described his experience in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio, Stendhal’s Syndrome is—according to its Wikipedia entry—a “psychosomatic illness that causes rapid heartbeat, dizziness, confusion, and even hallucinations when an individual is exposed to art, usually when the art is particularly “beautiful” or a large amount of art is in a single place. The term can also be used to describe a similar reaction to a surfeit of choice in other circumstances, e.g. when confronted with immense beauty in the natural world.”
The syndrome was named in 1979 by Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, who observed and described more than 100 similar cases among tourists and visitors in Florence. Maria and I are going to visit her next week, possibly meet some patients, and discuss some of the most dangerous works of art and why they have this effect.
When writing a musical work on this topic, I am confronted with three obvious possibilities:
- Earnestly try to compose the most sublime piece I can possibly write.
- Compose the most unsublime piece as a reaction to this task.
- Ignore the task and compose a piece that explores wholly musical, rather than extramusical ideas.
I am curious to know what other composers would do (or have done) in a situation like this.