Live Streaming in 1911

In 1911, Marcel Proust listened to the Third Act of Die Meistersinger on Théâtrophone, an intriguing early version of live streaming whereby subscribers could listen to performances by telephone from home, via a bank of receivers placed directly in front of the stage. It is a pleasing vignette. Proust was an enthusiastic Théâtrophone subscriber, as was King Luis I of Portugal, who enjoyed the service so much that he elevated its franchisee, the director of the Edison Gower Bell Company, to the Military Order of Christ. While Die Meistersinger is mentioned in passing in À la recherche du temps perdu, a line in the Third Act plays a central role in an absorbing short story by Proust, published in 1893, Mélancolique villégiature de Mme de Breyves (The Melancholy Summer of Madame de Breyves). In the story, Juliette de Breyves is a shy, lonely and attractive young widow of 24, drifting aimlessly from party to concert. One evening at a soirée, she notices a Monsieur Jacques de Laléande. He seems neither interesting nor particularly attractive, until he quite unexpectedly makes an explicit pass at her towards the end of the evening. She spends the next fortnight trying decorously to engineer a meeting with him with the help of her friend, Anne. Unfortunately, Monsieur de Laléande leaves Paris for Biarritz, albeit only for “a few months”, but for an eternity so far as she is concerned. Juliette is plunged into frenzied obsession. It is darkened and intensified when, unluckily, she hears Hans Sach’s aria, Was duftet doch der Flieder. This becomes her leitmotiv (Proust uses the Wagnerian term) for Monsieur de Laléande. She spends hours in her music room picking out the melody on the piano. She can think of nothing else. The melody is continually with her, evoking bittersweet thoughts of that brief moment of hope and the promise of happiness she came to believe it held.