I finally got around to reading Alex Ross’s piece on “fictional music” in The New Yorker (Aug. 24, 2009), where he talks about Proust’s Vinteuil and Mann’s Leverkühn. I could not find the full text of the article on-line but here is a link to a podcast where Ross is interviewed:
He nominates Fauré’s Piano Quintet in D Minor as the likely source of Vinteuil’s “little phrase” and you can hear the theme here. (I listened also to several interpretations on YouTube by student groups which I liked.)
Ross, in referring to the long passage on music in The Captive (V, 335), notes how little Proust thinks of biography as a source of understanding a work of art. Vinteuil, who Ross points out has no first name, is known by the narrator as “so timid and sad.” Yet he “had been capable–when he had to choose a timbre and to blend another with it–of an audacity, and in the full sense of the word a felicity, as to which the hearing of any of his works left one in no doubt.” I believe Proust is speaking for himself (as well as the Narrator) as someone to be judged by his art and not by the impressions he has given others of being a social butterfly, charming but inconsequential. Those who know the artist only through social interactions in fact know next to nothing about the person. Proust revisits this theme several more times when he dismisses the value of time spent cultivating friendships. While this may disappoint his friends, they are more than recompensed by the deeper connections they may form if they attend to his art.
A pair of wings, a different respiratory system, which enabled us to travel through space, would in no way help us, for it we visited Mars or Venus while keeping the same senses, they would clothe everything we could see in the same aspect as the things of Earth. The only true voyage, the only bath in the Fountain of Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is; and this we can do with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star. (V, 343)