The Intellectual and Inspiration: Sounds of Sense and Sensuality in Aschenbach’s Venice
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
Dr. Shersten Johnson
Assistant Professor, Music, University of St. Thomas