Sunday, October 21, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, Baroque Concerto (1974)

In this novella, a Mexican nobleman and his black page, Filomeno in the early eighteenth century take a trip to Europe. After some general whoring around, they go to Italy for a festival, where they happen to run into three of the most prominent composers of the time, Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, and George Frideric Handel (who apparently really did have a meet-up around this time, though not, I'm thinking, in this context), and hold an impromptu concert. The (unnamed) Mexican is dressed as Montezuma as part of this carnivalesque celebration, and this inspires Vivaldi's opera of that title, which takes extreme liberties with the historical context as it synthesizes the Old World and New. This is the most blatantly fantastic of Carpentier's works that I've read so far: time and artistic endeavor start blurring together: there are references to Stravinsky and Wagner, and the novella ends with Filomeno in attendance at a Louis Armstrong concert.

This is one of Carpentier's more obscure books, at least in English; the translation seems to be long out-of-print, and goodreads doesn't even have the cover picture (of Fernando Botero's "Dancing in Columbia") on file. I'm not entirely sure what my Official Opinion here ought to be. On the one hand, I really do like the level of oddness, which, as I say, I've never seen in Carpentier before. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that it's a little...I don't know, slight? On the third hand, that may well be criticizing it for being a novella instead of a novel, which doesn't seem to make much sense. And, I mean, what it does, it does well. I mean, it's Carpentier; what do you expect? If anything you've gotta wish that he had permitted himself to go nuts more often. It sure lingers in your mind.


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