Music in The Egoist and The Crisis

Brooke Boutwell and Miranda Dabney

Brooke and I chose the word Music  to look at in The Egoist and The Crisis.  We originally chose BLAST, but had some issues getting into Voyeur with BLAST, so we chose The Crisis to replace it.  

In The Egoist, some of the most frequent words used were life, man, and new.  From this, we can tell that the magaznie's focus was to talk about humanity and life, what happens in the lives of the readers or people like the readers.  The word "music" peaks in volume 5, issue 6, an issue which also references Poetry and The Little Review.  There are 25.75 uses of the word "music".  Among those mentions of music, there is an article about Debussey.  The issues tied for lowest number of "music" mentions, with zero mentions, are volume 1, issue 2; volume 5, issues 8 and 9; and volume 6, issue 4.

This lab helped us to explore more of what it means to close read using Voyeur tools.  Using the graphs and other tools to track words across different magazines helped to link what different issues focused on as well as figure out where certain words were more prevalent to narrow down issues and articles with the specific interest word.  

Music, Dismay, and the Blue Review

I explored the Blue Review, the short-lived successor to Rhythm. Each of its three issues followed a standard layout: contents, an imprint, an illustration, three or four short poems, several articles or essays, a visual art section in the middle, more essays, and, finally, advertisements on the back cover. The Blue Review seemed to appeal to a bibliophile audience and many of its ads relate to monographs, though one issue included a dressmaker’s ad and the same French ad was published in all three issues. This use of French, as well as appearances of other languages such as an article titled “Daibutsu” and sections regarding German and Italian books, also indicates an appeal to international audiences.

I picked an article in the middle issue - June 1913 - of the Blue Review called “A Fresh Start in Music,” which aims to balance two groups of composers: the academics and the modernists, in the article’s terms (volume 1, issue 2, page 97). The author toys with the mechanization and modernization of orchestras as well as the worth of preserving past theory and foundations for music. The page layout seems fairly simple: the pages are left-justified and one column; there is no visual art; the essay is situated toward the middle of the issue between an article called “Anger and Dismay” and another called “Epilogue: II.”  I find the juxtaposition with the “Fresh Start in Music” following the “Anger and Dismay” article, as music is often considered to be an antidote to anger and dismay, as well as a general soothing influence. The first issue of the Blue Review doesn’t have a dedicated music section, but the third and last issue concludes its articles with a survey of Beethoven, Elgar, and Debussy. This also indicates internationality on the part of the journal through its grouping of German, English, and French (respectively) musicians.

Music and “L'Étoile de Mer”

In the Scholes and Wulfman chapter “Modernism in the Magazines: The Case of Visual Art,.” the authors discuss the nature of framing in artwork. In particular, they cite the example of paintings; one gets different impressions of the same image between a reprinted painting versus its original counterpart, or variances in lighting, or the attitude of the surrounding crowd upon viewing. The authors state: “we are following John Berger's arguments in Ways of Seeing to point out that framing, captioning, hanging position, and surrounding works all affect our perception of any particular work of art, and that time itself works crucial change as well” (76-7). In the case of Man Ray's short film“L'Étoile de Mer,” what I noticed more than anything else in its framework was the musical score.

In comparison to his artwork published in transition, for example, the soundtrack adds an additional element to process while watching“L'Étoile de Mer.” Though this film was released in 1928, the soundtrack was not added until later, by a composer by the name of Paul Mercer (who is cited in the credits). I did a little digging and found out from his personal website that he is a contemporary violinist and composer. According to his bio, “in a modern turn, he has created new soundtracks for old silent films being preserved on dvd, including several avant-garde films of the 1920s and 1930s by F. Leger and Man Ray.” I found myself focusing on the music quite a bit, especially when Man Ray had viewers looking at the same image (such as the starfish underwater from 0:45-0:55, and later from ) for a prolonged period of time. This begs the question: why the use of a newer composition instead of music from that time period? Composers such as Béla Bartok, Gustav Holst, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, and Igor Stravinsky, to name a few, were debuting some of their most famous works in the 1920's (examples of some of these pieces can be found on the links). Additionally, the music of artists such as Irving Berlin and Al Jolson were wildly popular, so the question remains: why add a soundtrack of new music, and not music from the actual time period? Would that not be more historically accurate?


The music itself is provided by, as far as I can tell, a string quartet. The composition relies on overlaying chord suspensions, especially between the upper and lower strings, that add an element of mystery to the otherwise-silent medium. Mercer additionally takes advantage of a variety of string effects such as tremolo, ponticello, and sur la touche to achieve this – these are all effects that also appear in, and were popularized by, the composers I previously mentioned. “L'Étoile de Mer's” soundtrack is a more minimalist reduction of the more symphonic works, but also has a definitively contemporary feel to it, therefore changing the overall effect of the work.


The reason I question this is due to our focus on context: like our focus on the once-disregarded advertisements that appeared alongside content from James Joyce and Ezra Pound, the ability to add music to a previously silent medium adds an additional layer of context to it, therefore modifying its original content. In this particular case, the music is more current: does this change the experience for the viewer? In my opinion, yes. It would be similar to, for example, if transition were to feature advertisements from contemporary publishers, but done in an avant garde style – the impact is different on modern readers than its original (and probably intended) context.

Coterie Sings a Poetic Dirge

In the year following World War I, a great deal of darker themes became apparent in various poems published in the magazine Coterie. 1920 brough about a new freedom to discuss more sordid topics, as the world had just been affected by a great war. There are many poems that depict images of loss and death quite literally from the battleground, as well as figuratively, (as in lost love, and such); however, several of these poems in particular have something beyond that in common, and that is that they allude to references of music in the poetry.

In the April, 1920 issue, a poet named Conrad Aiken had a set of peoms published which are both reminiscent of life and ponder on death. Both exhibit a strong sense of music within their context. The first poem, "Portrait of One Dead" tells the somber story of a woman caught between life with and without her lover, who had gone for reasons that are unexplained. Her life at both stages is contrasted by a world with music and without: "This is her room: on one side there is music-/ On one side not a sound./ At one step she could move from love to silence..." The halls and the rooms of the house itself are described as "sonorous," the love letters she receives are "fragrant with music," which ignites a sense of reverberance in the reader; one can almost feel the vibrations of the music. The sensation of sound is so prominent, it becomes metaphorical for the girl's life. In the poem she dies, which is best described in the lines, "You do not know how long she clung to the music,/ You did not hear her sing," as if the playing of the music runs parallel to her physical life. The poem that follows directly after, "Coffins", again describes life as music: "We are like music, each voice of it pursuing/ A golden separate dream, remote, persistent,/ Climbing to fire, receeding to hoarse despair." The poem depicts a winter night in a town where death looms, inevitable, to take its inhabitants. Aiken is adament about using music as a metaphor for life. When death is in the eyes of someone, it is as thought the music runs out: "They are blown away like windflung chords of music;/ They drift away; the sudden music has died." It puts music in the light of being merely a span of time; It glissandos, crescendos, carries through the wind and is gone, fleeting, like life. He goes so far as to personify music as "sinister" and "troubled."

These themes are apparent again in the same issue and in later months. Further into the issue, a poem by C. B. Kitchin called "Requiem- July 17th, 1919" alludes to music in its very title. A requiem being a prominent musical piece that is sung as a mass at a funeral or in time of death, the work depicts a gruesome scene of death that disturbs the scenario of a peaceful, quiet night. In the September, 1920 issue, a poem called "An Unreturning Thing," by Gerald Gould describes the death of a child like "the hush before the orchestra begins." These poets not only describe music as an essential factor of life, but it is to them, as though, it is life in itself.

Maintenant nous permettre de discuter la musique et la poésie...

At the turn of the twentieth century, the world of classical music, much like the rest of the literary and artistic world, was undergoing revolutionary change in regard to what was considered tasteful and acceptable. If one were to review a basic timeline of the eras in classical music, they would note the very separate structure in these various eras, as well as particular attributes pertaining to the music of those respective times. To the connoisseur of classical music, identifying a musical work's historical origin is as simple as listening to a piece. When considering classcial music as has been made known to the world, France was never particularly prominent in producing great works until towards the end of the classical era. Its height is certainly noted to be within the Romantic era, while music's earlier roots held stronger in the Italian and Germanic world. The Romantic era spread throughout Europe in the nineteenth century, giving France the breadth to exhibit its emotional musical granduer; therefore, it is no suprise that when music began to break from its classically structured roots into the contemporary, experimental realm, France was once of the first nations to take the leap. French composer Claude Debussy is renown today for his contributions to the world of music. A genuine iconoclast, he was one of the first composers to break from the necessity of establishing melody: heresy to the old pricks at the conservatoire! Debussy had, in his mind, a genuis that not only revolutionized the world of music, but the critical way musicians use their inner ear. By experimenting with cacophany and the structure behind music theory, what was generally and concensually considered pleasing to the ear, Debussy delved into the world of music. His concern and attention to overtone was inclusive in his delicate musical practice. (An overtone is a rung tone that is audible as a result of the virbrations produced from a chord that is played; however the overtone is not actually struck on the instrument.) In 1911, amidst the most unusual of Debussy's experimental phase, towards the end of his life, Rollo H. Meyers, published an essay, "The Art of Claude Debussy" in Rythym. It is quite obvious that Meyers' held Debussy in high regard as a misunderstood genius conveying his radical "hip new beat" to the old conservative musical ear. Debussy's work in the field today has claimed its place in it's genre, along with the works of his progressive thinking contemporaries such as Maurice Ravel and Cesar Franck. His career marks the turn of the century and rite to the Impressionist, Modern music throne. Composers such as Britten and Vaughn- Williams in Britain were next to follow, and a great deal of what is know of American music by composers like Barber, Menotti, and Copland fall under this field; however, none of these said composers truly made their statement until after World War I. In the Germanic world? Contemporary music did not hit Germany or Vienna until even later! France led this race for certain.

In skimming these documents, it is more than apparent that French appears quite often as a device. Often the title or an epigraph can be found in French, while the rest of the piece is in English. It seems as though France, or the French language held an enigmatic claim to the bohemian tendencies of the Modernist movement. Le Petit Journal des Refusees carries it in its title, as do many poems and works in the archives. "Abstrosophy" is a short poem that discusses present struggle in its progressive state towards becoming reward; what seems negative now, will be held positive forthcoming, (much like the rebuke of Debussy's compositions). The first half of the poem is somewhat illegible, if it is even part of the poem. It seems to be set to music, but the staff it is written on is artistically curvy, and askew, which seems relevant to the ideas expressed about Debussy's musical style, although one would never attempt to read music off such a staff, so it must be meant as an artistic statement about music. Written in 1896, years before the article on Debussy's later work, the poem seems to foreshadow the Modernist movement that is coming. The word abstrosophy is not in the dictionary, nor is it a French word. I am plagued with curiosity: what does abstrosophy mean?