Historian Annick LE GUERRER presented an introduction to the very old relation between music and fragrance evoking the Egyptian goddess Hathor and later the apparition of "synthetic" notes in perfume and music during the XIXth century. She also spoke about the paradox of Edmond Roudnitska who tried to take a distance from music when he explored the aesthetics of fragrance, but often returned to it for the examples. The fragrance vocabulary inspired by music was briefly presented. Musicologist Marie-Anouch SARKISSIAN presented several crossroads between music and perfume while she entertained the audience playing several piano works that had a possible connection with the 8th art, composed by Debussy (Feuilles mortes, Bruyères, Ondine). Debussy was considered by Garcia Lorca "musicien des parfums et de l'irisation". The relation between music and perfume, as it was perceived by writers, was evoked like the case of George Sand. During her speech, the musicologist made references to Joris-Karl Huysmans, Aldous Huxley but also Septimus Piesse, the perfumer who in the XIXth century compared perfumes to music and even proposed a scale. The notion of harmony, as understood by musicians, was briefly presented. She insisted on emotions as fundamental to both arts. Another theme was the notion of water. During the concerto we were given blotters with Geranium pour Monsieur, New West for Her (Aramis) now discontinued but specially reconstructed by its author Yves Tanguy, and Escape (Calvin Klein). Dominique Ropion read a short presentation about the watery theme in perfume, starting with the camphoraceous rosemary note of Eau de la Reine de Hongrie, the freshness of citrus note that represented the first Eaux and he insisted on the lily of the valley note (a flower that is neither fruity nor sweet vanillic) as the base for modern transparency after the arrival of Calone, the marine molecule. The success of this theme in the 90's was based on the desire for purity, in a figurative or impressionist interpretation. He concluded that, after all, the water has no real smell and the perfumer can use any material to express his poetic idea. It is a dream water ("eau rêvée"). When the audience started to ask questions, it was pointed out that sadness and melancholia, often found in music, are not really a theme in perfumery where all briefs speak about joy and happiness. Musician Laurent Assoulen also had a short intervention, presenting his previous work with perfumer Guillaume Flavigny for a jazz concerto and explaining how Résonances was constructed - a structure between high and low pitched notes without the usual heart elements of a perfume.
Several personal comments:
I believe that a solid theoretical basis about art, perfumes and philosophy is needed when discussing about aesthetic affinities between music and fragrances. "What is art", "what is not art", "what is emotion and its relation to art" are subjects that were widely explored in the last century and any argument cannot avoid them. Aesthetics is a subject more complex than "it moves me, I like it, it is an art" and certainly people should read more than Roudnitska's book. Like I previously said in the article about "olfacto auditory works of art", I do not believe in simple associations, and definitely not on those based solely on the title of a work. Exploration of the past will not reveal other than what we know quite well: senses were presented everywhere since thousands of years because we do not separate and isolate our senses. You will find music and scent (or image and scent) in the same phrase since the earliest examples of literature and this is natural. But these small examples do not say other than "we perceive through our all senses and connecting things is natural for our knowledge". What 2010 should bring is a new reflection and an advanced thinking system where the exploration of senses is not a natural coincidence ("I hear Chopin, I think of a particular scent!"). This type of crossovers cannot avoid the discussion of perfume structure (like I did previously with "sonata shape", Bach, rythm and other elements from music than can be transposed in composition). Also, repeating the example of Septimus Piesse is not a healthy attitude without questioning its origin. Was he really thinking of music, or was it just just a "visualization" tool to explain perfume because music was known and performed by any cultivated people in the XIXth century? Why his perfume formulae are based on anything but his scales? Is his notion of harmony related to music or alchemy?
I also play music but when I light scented candles on my XIXth century vienese piano I do not feel that I approach Art. This is ambient and mood and of course, emotions.
But in some situations, music and perfumes can share unquestionable aesthetic affinities. This is the case of Debussy and several early Jacques Guerlain masterpieces like "Après l'ondée" (and lately l'Heure bleue among other 10 creations), based on the same "irisation" concept but also born from the same aesthetic "vibe" of an era that believed in "Gesamtkunstwerk" (from Wagner to the Arts of 1900's).
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art