The Intellectual and Inspiration: Sounds of Sense and Sensuality in Aschenbach’s Venice

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Britten’s opera, Death in Venice (1973), portrays in music, action, and text the writer’s block experienced by the opera’s central character: an aging German novelist named Aschenbach. But, amidst all the blocked creativity in this adaptation of Tomas Mann’s deeply Freudian tale of conflict between intellect and the senses, one brief but glorious flash of inspiration shines through. Having traveled to Venice in an effort to recoup his creative powers, Aschenbach is struck by the beauty of an adolescent boy, Tadzio, playing on the beach near his hotel, and ecstatically writes what Mann refers to as “a page an a half of choicest prose.” This paper examines the nature of artistic inspiration and how it is mediated by intellectualism and environment, especially with regard to the effect of Venice as a place of inspiration. Furthermore, it considers how we conceive of bursts of insight as gestures, and how music can amplify these embodied notions of creativity. And, ultimately, it considers how Britten's music portrays the output of Aschenbach’s intellectual/artistic conflict.

Keywords: Death in Venice, Benjamin Britten, Aschenbach, Creativity, Writer's Block, Intellect, Inspiration, Opera, Venice
Stream: Arts Theory and Criticism
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: The Intellectual and Inspiration

Dr. Shersten Johnson

Assistant Professor, Music, University of St. Thomas
Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA

Shersten Johnson is Assistant Professor of Music Theory at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota (USA), where she teaches courses in music theory and music appreciation. Her interests include twentieth-century opera and art song, as well as cognitive-linguistic and narrative theories. Her writings appear in Music & Letters, The Journal of Music and Meaning, PsyArt, Music Theory Spectrum, and Opera Today, and she is the recipient of the Westrup Prize for distinguished article of 2005 from Music & Letters.

Ref: A09P0071