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All the World's Mornings by Pascal Quignard

All the World's Mornings (1991)

by Pascal Quignard

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This restrained and delicately ironic novella, set in the countryside around Paris in the second half of the 17th century and dealing with the relationship between two musicians of different generations, became an unlikely popular hit thanks to the very successful film by Alain Corneau, which was made in parallel with the writing of the book.

M. de Sainte-Colombe has an almost legendary standing among his contemporaries as a composer, performer and technical innovator on the viola da gamba, but he lives in rustic isolation with his two daughters on the banks of the Bièvre and refuses to travel the few miles to Versailles to show off his skill, even at the direct command of the King. His ascetic tendency is partly religious (he's associated with the Jansenist Port-Royal movement) but he's also clearly been plunged into a depression by the untimely death of his wife.

Against all his instincts, he accepts the young Marin Marais as his pupil. Marais is the son of a cobbler and has been thrown out of the royal choir-school when his voice broke: it's his evident grief at being cut off from music and probably forced to follow his father's trade that moves Sainte-Colombe to accept him. By the logic of such stories, we would expect him to become a grateful pupil, marry one of the daughters, and inherit his master's secrets, but that would be too neat for Quignard's way of seeing things. The relationship that develops between Marais and the Sainte-Colombe family involves a curious mixture of low comedy and bleak tragedy - baroque, yes, but baroque in an oddly low-key way.

The descriptions in the book are every bit as striking as the visuals of the film, and also draw on the art of the period. The still-life paintings of Lubin Baugin play an important role, and there's a lot of discussion of the way ideas cross over between the different arts: Sainte-Colombe even instructs Marais to listen carefully to the rhythms of Baugin's brush when he's painting and use them as a model for his bowing. Interesting: putting music into literature is always tricky, and writers have to resort to all kinds of tricks to make it work, but until now I've never come across someone who does it principally by using visual images as Quignard is doing here.

Another interesting and very pleasant little diversion, but I suspect that Quignard can do rather better than this: ultimately it seems a rather slight piece of work, and you wonder a bit whether the book or the film was the main goal here. ( )
2 vote thorold | Apr 4, 2016 |
Hmm... I'm a little scared to read this because the movie was oh-so-bad. From Margriet Tindemans.
  ChrisBriden | Nov 17, 2013 |
I had stumbled across a reference to Le Voix Humaine in a not very good work of fiction and decided to seek out the music. Then picked up All the World's Mornings in a random 'friends of the library' sale because of the head of the viol on the cover. Funny how serendipity works, no? This is the story of Saint Colombe, his daughters, their lover Marin Marais and their music. This is an enjoyable work for lovers of music as well as lovers of love and heartbreak. ( )
  varielle | Jul 5, 2009 |
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