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Don Quixote and Music, Part 5

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Don Quixote, new translation by Edith Grossman (released on October 21, 2003)

Don Quixote (online version, English translation)

Don Quijote (online version, Spanish original)

Ruta de Don Quijote (pilgrimage route following Don Quixote around Spain)

available at Amazon
Don Quijote de La Mancha: Romances y Músicas, Montserrat Figueras, Hespèrion XXI, La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall (released on January 10, 2006)
In honor of the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote and the release of an exceptional Cervantes recording by Jordi Savall, the Ionarts Book Club is reading the novel. Readers are welcome to make comments based on their own reading.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4
Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

In previous posts, I have discussed some of the narrative play in Cervantes's way of telling his story. This is one of the reasons that the book is remembered as the first novel, because of its often modern sensibility, looking forward to later manipulations of narrative structure, like Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gent. (1759-67) and Diderot's Jacques le Fataliste et son maître in the 18th century and many others. One part of this narrative play has to do with continuity, summed up in a story that Sancho attempts to tell his master (Part One, Chapter 20), about a man who tries to help a goatherd row his goats, one by one, across a river. Sancho insists that Don Quixote has to keep track of how many goats there are by counting them. When Don Quixote loses track of the number, Sancho forgets the rest of the story, as he warned he would, and the narrative thread disappears under the waves. A few chapters later, another remark reminds Don Quixote of the story, whose ending he wanted to hear: "the tale had been left hanging in the air. But to come back to the Ragged One --" (Part One, Chapter 24). In effect, Cervantes tells us with a wink, all stories hangs by such a fragile thread.

The tone that Cervantes sets is that Don Quixote's story, although seemingly far-fetched, is as credible as reality, because his protagonist is a real madman. One of the main forebears of Don Quixote is alluded to by Cervantes when the knight encounters the prisoners headed to the galleys. The main brigand, Ginés de Pasamonte, has written a sort of memoir of his rough life:
"He speaks the truth," said the commissary, "for he has himself written his story, as big as you please, and has left the book in the prison, having pawned it for two hundred reales."

"And I mean to redeem it," said Ginés, "even if it costs me two hundred ducats."

"Is it as good as that," inquired Don Quixote.

"It is so good," replied Ginés, "that it will cast into the shade Lazarillo de Tormes and all others of that sort that have been or will be written. What I would tell you is that it deals with facts, and facts so interesting and amusing that no lies could equal them."
Lazarillo de Tormes (1554) is an anonymous prose work, possibly fiction and just as possibly an actual memoir of the rough-and-tumble life of a poor boy sold by his struggling mother into the servitude of a blind man. Cervantes himself certainly had his ups and downs, including being seriously wounded in a battle, becoming a prisoner in North Africa, ultimately ransomed by his family, and even spending some time running from the law and in prison back in Spain.

By a somewhat unsatisfactory trick, Don Quixote is brought back to his village at the end of Part One. In fact, we finally learn the name of Don Quixote's village, Argamasilla -- which the narrator had "no desire to recall" in the novel's opening line -- only at the very end of Part One and then only obliquely. With a somewhat abrupt ending, Cervantes closes with a quotation from Orlando Furioso ("Perhaps others will sing [of this] with a better plectrum"). It does seem to be a cue for someone else to take up the story, which is exactly what happened. Cervantes's own Part Two, completed ten years later, is in many ways a response to the unauthorized sequel by Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda. In Part Two, the narrator refers to both Cervantes's first part -- a wild literary success that confirms Don Quixote's misconception of the grandeur of his own deeds -- and the spurious sequel. There is only one jarring inconsistency between the two sections: at the end of Part One, the narrator tells us that Sancho's wife's name is Juana, which is contradicted in the opening chapters of Part Two, where she is named Teresa.

The first major encounter of the second part of the novel, whose 400th anniversary we will not technically celebrate until 2015, is Don Quixote's first trip to El Toboso. It is the home of his imagined beloved, Dulcinea, a simple country girl he has heard about but never actually seen. In Chapters 9 and 10, the knight and his squire enter the village, during which escapade Sancho Panza has to invent a ruse to conceal from his master the fact that he did not in fact come here earlier, as Don Quixote commanded, to give his regards to Dulcinea. This first meeting of the knight with his lover -- just an ugly girl the pair encounter on the road, whom Sancho says describes as Dulcinea under an evil enchanter's spell -- although less than satisfactory sets the tone for much of the first half of Part Two. Don Quixote subsequently refers to this incident numerous times, suspecting the appearances of all who come into contact with him and his squire.

An insignificant line at the opening of Chapter 9 ("Media noche era por filo") is cited by Cervantes apparently only to describe the hour of Don Quixote's arrival (at midnight it was, more or less). However, thanks to Savall's recording, we learn that this is the first line of the Romance del Conde Claros, an old ballad set to music here by Francisco Salinas. It concerns the legendary love of Count Claros with the Infanta Claraniña. The count awoke at midnight, inflamed with love for the princess, and rode to the palace where she was waiting for him. After a passionate night of love, the Count is arrested by the king, who initially condems the Count to death for seducing his daughter. The Infanta's plea for the Count's life prevails, and Claros is pardoned. Although not actually sung by Don Quixote or another character in the story, Cervantes probably cites it because of the humorous comparison that his own love story would make with it. The reader can only see that humor, however, if he knows the whole song. As it turns out, the performance of this romance, with several singers and exciting instrumental divisions with each new stanza, is one of the most pleasing on the CD.

(To be continued.)

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