Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Nineteenth-Century Art about Swimming

I've been thinking, especially in a Renaissance context, about swimming latterly. There's a good deal of modern literature about this passtime, of course, since the creation in the twentieth-century of myriad (municiple and otherwise) swimming pools, the cultural and health pressures to partake, the teaching of swimming at school, the explosion of 'holidaying' as a Western pursuit and so on. But much less in the nineeteenth-century, I thought, idly: Swinburne's paroxysms and the occasional piece of late Browning aside.

Now, I've also been working my way through Wagner, or more to the point, working my way past my Wagner inertia by forcing myself to attend repeatedly to each opera in turn until my familiarity with the richly shifting and often sprawly monotonous musical texture overcomes my hostility. It's working, too: first with Parzifal and Seigfried, now with Das Rheingold. But it has its disadvantages; the music becomes a sort of mental wallpaper, and although each new listen brings out more of the richness, I can miss blindingly obvious things ... such as the fact that the whole of the first act of this four-act opera is entirely and wholly about swimming. And in very interesting ways.

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