Listening to The Dandy

We appear to know what we see in Nils Dardel’s 1918 painting The Dying Dandy: an impeccable and cultivated young man in the throes of an apparent death, albeit an indulgent and luxuriously choreographed one. It must be death, for the Dandy—the very epitome of vanity and frivolity—to be unable to gaze upon his own self-image is an aesthetic negation. The mirror is the Dandy’s portal to the sublime—as Baudelaire writes, he must “live and sleep” before it. An opulent death is thus the only way; adorned in silk and fastidiously dressed, death is the final act of performance, a means to preserve one’s image and reputation, without any of the vulgarity of the act itself. There is an irony to Dardel’s Dandyism too: an artist who flirted with Cubism and Surrealism and steeped himself in the ferment of the Parisian avant-garde. Do we read the painting biographically, as a symbolic snapshot in time of his own ill-health? Or is it less literal and more detached—a metaphor for Romantic individualism or a cipher for the artist’s dislocation from society? The rich, idle, indolent fakery of Dandyism? Or the witty, bohemian aesthetic of Wilde? Dardel seems to play with the paradox, rendering a series of possible meanings. Why not—it is art after all—not life.

A contemporary of Dardel’s who similarly toyed with the fluid concepts of Dandyism was Erik Satie, whose Three Distinguished Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy, composed in 1914, was performed at The Phillips Collection during a Sunday Concert on October 21 by pianist Pedja Mužijević. Satie’s three waltzes are miniatures: little perfume bottles and buttonholes of music, titled “His Waist,”“His Spectacles,” and “His Legs.” To accompany each piece, Satie contributes absurd inscriptions: “He pays himself a nicely fitting compliment.” “A great sadness comes over our friend: he has lost the case for his spectacles!” “They’re nice straight legs…He wants to carry them under his arms.” The music seems to have everything and nothing to do with Dandyism; Satie approaches his supposed subject with the blasé attitude of a humorist, creating the bait of meaning through allusion but simultaneously withdrawing it through a surrealist’s sleight of hand. How can the music itself convey such specificity? Satie mocks the very idea. The irony is Wildean then in its sly and impish conceit, “jaded” about the very idea of music as anything other than the embodiment of itself. Satie’s Waltzes are very much like Dardel’s extravagant Dandy then, obsessed with the very purity of their own characteristics, stubbornly refusing to be reduced to words or to one single meaning.

Jeremy Ney, Director of Music at The Phillips Collection

Listen to Pedja Mužijević perform Satie’s Three Distinguished Waltzes of a Jaded Dandy:

And see The Dying Dandy at The Phillips Collection in Nordic Impressions: Art from Åland, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, 1821–2018 through January 13.

Bandonéon Basics with Phillips Music

Street Tango. Buenos Aires, La Boica 2011

I love when Phillips Music gets its hands on a musical instrument we’ve never featured before! This Sunday, we will have classical guitarist Jason Vieaux performing with Julien Labro, who is proficient in playing the accordion and bandonéon. Naturally this raises the question, to most of us, what is a bandonéon?

A bandonéon, in fact, is a type of concertina. Similar to the accordion, it is played by holding the instrument between both hands and pushing in or pulling out, while pressing the buttons with the fingers. Unlike an accordion, however, these buttons all correlate to individual notes, and so chords are played by pressing combinations of buttons at the same time. Bandonéons are often square or hexagonal in shape with beveled edges and unusually long bellows. I’ve found a decent photo of one (caption below) and a video with a very familiar refrain—La Cumparsita (when I think of tango, this is what I hear in my head).

Kathryn Rogge, Manager of Academic Programs & Phillips Music

Unforgettable Evening with Emanuel Ax

Emanuel Ax photo_Daniel Schwartz

Photo: Daniel Schwartz

Huge thanks to the folks at PianoCraft for helping Phillips Music stay in tune this concert season! This beautiful Steingraeber grand they lent us for the 75th anniversary Emanuel Ax benefit concert made the evening unforgettable. Mr. Ax sat at the freshly-tuned piano for no more than 15 seconds to warm up, hammered out a heap of chords and scales, and proclaimed: “perfect, I’m ready now.” PianoCraft, thank you for never letting us miss a single note this season.

Caroline Mousset, Music Director