Two years later, in 1911, Thomas Mann, who was 3 years Diaghilev’s junior, who attributed to Wagner the greatest influence on his youthful sensibility, and who in 1902 devoted a story to the Tristan theme, stayed at the Grand Hôtel des Bains and shortly afterward completed Death in Venice, his novella about a famous artist from Munich, Gustav Aschenbach, who did not bathe publicly either, but who loved “this most improbable of cities,” Venice, and yet another young Polish boy, Tadzio. Aschenbach would sit on the beach, admiring the Polish lad, the symbol to him of perfect beauty. As the admiration turned to passion, Venice was invaded by Asiatic cholera.
Like Diaghilev, Aschenbach was born in the provinces, in a small town in Silesia. Like Diaghilev, he was the son of a servant of the state, in this case an upper official in the judicature, and his family, too, too, was full of officers, judges, and functionaries. Aschenbach, like Diaghilev, stayed at the Hotel des Bains on the Lido.
In the long mornings on the beach his heavy gaze would rest, a fixed and reckless stare, upon the lad; towards nightfall, lost to shame, he would follow him through the city’s narrow streets where horrid death stalked too, and at such time it seemed to him as though the moral law were fallen in ruins and only the monstrous and perverse held out a hope.
Diaghilev knew Mann’s story well. He gave copies of it to his intimates. Anton Dolin received a copy on his birthday in July 1924. In August 1929, Diaghilev, aged fifty-seven, left his latest protege, the sixteen-year-old Igor Markevitch, in Munich, where the two had attended a performance of Tristan, and returned to Venice to the Grand Hotel des Bains. The dancers Boris Kochno and Serge Lifar, two of Diaghilev’s recent lovers, joined him a few days later. On August 19, Diaghilev, a diabetic, died. Misia Sert was present, along with Kochno and Lifar.After the nurse had pronounced death, Kochno, with a terrible roar, suddenly flung himself on Lifar, and a vicious struggle ensued, with biting, tearing, and kicking. “Two mad dogs were fighting over the body of their master,” commented Misia. Two days later a gondola ferried Diaghilev’s body to the funeral isle of San Michele, where he lies buried. The inscription on his tombstone reads:
Venise, Inspiratrice Eternelle de nos Apaisements
SERGE DE DIAGHILEV 1872-1929
Serge Diaghilev and Thomas Mann never met, it seems. Yet the life of one and the imagination of the other overlapped to an obviously extraordinary degree. Coincidence is our term for concurrence that is not consciously willed and that we cannot explain in any definitive sense. However, if we retreat from the restrictive world of linear causality and think in terms of context and confluence rather than cause, then it is undeniable that there were many influences – to begin with, those of Venice and Wagner – at work on the imagination of Mann and Diaghilev, two giants of twentieth-century aesthetic sense, influences that led one to create a certain fiction and the other actually to live strikingly near that fiction.
Moreover, one must ask whether Mann’s story was any less real than Diaghilev’s life. Heinrich Mann, in review of his brother’s novella, saw that the central issue of Death in Venice was “Which came first, reality or poetry?” In his “Life Sketch” of 1930, Thomas Mann spoke of the “innate symbolism and honesty of composition” of Death in Venice, a story that, he asserted, was “taken simply from reality.” Nothing was invented, he claimed, none of the settings, none of the characters, none of the events. Tadzio, it has since been established, was in fact a certain Wladyslaw Moes, a young Polish boy on holiday in Venice. Jaschiu was one Janek Fudakowski. Aschenbach bore a distinct resemblance to Gustav Mahler, who died in 1911. Thomas Mann, whose art as a whole is striking in its fusion of autobiographical and imaginative experience, called his novella “a crystallization.”
Rites of Spring: the Great War and the birth of the Modern Age – Modris Eksteins
A verdade é que cheguei aqui ao ficar constantemente intrigada do porquê Bogarde no Morte em Veneza sempre me fazer lembrar do Walbrook no Red Shoes e vice-versa, mesmo sendo personagens em situações tão distintas e desconhecendo toda essa confluência entre Diaghilev (o Lermontov do Walbrook) e Mahler/Mann (o Aschenbach do Bogarde). Quem me abriu os olhos para isso foi justamente o Ken Russell com a cena na estação da sua cinebio sobre o Mahler.
- Diaghilev & the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes (paromita.wordpress.com)
- Judith Mackrell on Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes: a century of sensation | Stage | The Guardian (paromita.wordpress.com)
- You: One giant leap for dance historians (guardian.co.uk)