|Marin Marais by André Bouys, 1704|
Today we find ourselves in France for an unusual musical interlude, courtesy of Marin Marais, a famed French composer and darling of the Versailles court. In between fathering 19 children and entertaining the French royal family, Marais was famed for his operas and other compositions, though it is for a most singular piece that he has won his place at the salon today.
Marais was an early practitioner of the genre known as "program music", in which music is used to communicate a narrative to the audience. Sometimes, as in the case of Marais, the narrative is also provided in a written format to the audience.
Marais wrote his work, Le Tableau de l'Operation de la Taille, in 1725. The English title of the composition is The Bladder-Stone Operation, and it depicts a scene all-too common in the 18th century, the practise of bladder surgery to remove stones. In the piece for viola and harpsichord, Marais gives a gruesome account of the operation and when he published the composition he provided a written passage to accompany it.
Below you can read the notes written by Marais; I can certainly hear the fear and grisliness of the operation in the music. indeed, it sends a chill through me even on a lovely day like this!
The appearance of the apparatus.
Shuddering at the sight of it.
Resolving to climb onto it.
Securing the arms and legs with silken cords.
Now the incision is made.
The pincers are inserted.
Now the stone is pulled out.
Now the voice dies away to a croak.
Now the cords are removed.
Now one is carried to bed.