Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Tivoli and Environs

"Non-place," says Augé, "is the opposite of utopia." Yet sometimes the two are not so far away. Just over half an hour before checking in at Kastrup Airport, I was standing at the gates of Tivoli, the Danish pleasure garden, founded in 1843, that, a hundred years later, would inspire Uncle Walt's conception of his own Disneyland park.

Originally named "Vauxhall & Tivoli", the design of the park was evidently as much inspired by the faux-classicism of the fake ruins to be found at Paris's Jardins de Tivoli (whose third incarnation, founded by Phantasmagoria inventor Étienne-Gaspard Robert, had closed just a few years before), as by the orientalism of the 'Turkish Tent' and other chinoiseries at London's Vauxhall Gardens.

The gates to Tivoli proudly declare its dedication to the fourth muse, garlanded on each side with musician gargoyles playing lutes, lyres and various horns. From its opening until 1872, the gardens' musical director was the composer Hans Christian Lumbye. Lumbye, a popular composer of waltzes, polkas and mazurkas, was converted upon hearing a Viennese orchestra in 1839 into an immediate fan of the music of Johann Strauss (as was Disney, who would dedicate an episode of Disney's Wonderful World of Color to the "Waltz King").

Though often dubbed the "Strauss of the North," there is something about pieces like the Drømmebilleder ("Dream Pictures") and the Champagne Galop (which opens with a brass flurry followed by an actual popping champagne cork) which looks forward to the dreamily sophisticated programmatic lounge music of Frank Chacksfield.

Situated in the south of the city, there is a curious selection of buildings and businesses to be found in Tivoli's immediate vicinity, including a casino named after the Scala opera house in Milan; a Scientology recruiting office; the rather gaily coloured art deco Palads cinema; and the Tycho Brahe Planetarium.

The IMAX-fitted planetarium building is scarcely more than twenty years old, but its dedicatee was a sixteenth century astronomer and alchemist whose publication of De Nova Stella punctured the orthodoxy of Aristotlean celestial immutability at a time when the Copernican system was still controversial to the point of illegality.

Brahe's place in the history of science fiction is assured by his inclusion as a character in a work by one of his students, Johannes Kepler. Kepler had assisted Brahe in his observations of Mars, while resident in Prague towards the end of his life. His post-humously published, Somnium, a "dream" about a trip to the moon by a bridge of darkness, would later be characterised by Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov as the first ever work of the genre.

Immediately opposite the planetarium, is a go-go dancing club called the Venue Bar. Its name exploiting a semiotic slippage already mined by the naming of the red light district in Total Recall ("Venusville"), and the lurid descriptions of the planet Venus, and the "fleshpots" of its capital, Venusberg, in Robert Heinlein's Podkayne on Mars.

In Brahe's time, the connection between music and "the spheres" would have been all too self-evident. Ironically, the father of Galileo, Vincenzo Galilei, as a composer and member of the Floretine Camerata, was amongst those chiefly responsible for bringing melody back down to earth, in the form of the more human-centred monody that would form the backbone of the operas of Peri and Monteverdi.