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Debussy's Vocal Music and its Poetic Evocations

Siglind Bruhn
August 30, 2018

288 pp.

17 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-57647-315-3

$58.00


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Description

In fin-de-siècle Paris, composers encountered an artistic atmosphere that was crucially determined by a number of poets who met regularly in the famous cabaret “Le Chat Noir” and at Stéphane Mallarmé’s Tuesday soirées. According to Paul Dukas, these poets conceived their texts like musicians or painters: “Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Laforgue presented us with new tones, new sounds. They projected lights onto their words as had never been seen before,” thus developing an aesthetics that Charles Baudelaire had termed “la correspondance des arts.”

Claude Debussy, an avid reader of contemporary poetry, became a member of these circles when still in his early twenties. While as a student at the Paris conservatoire he had primarily set texts by poets from the generation of his parents and grandparents, he now turned to the lyric works of his contemporaries. The vocal cycles he composed in the course of the 30 years between 1885 and 1915 trace the path of his compositional development, which particularly since his encounter with the poetry of Paul Verlaine was defined by the quest for liberation from conventions handed down for too long.

This book, the first of two intended complements to Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music (Pendragon Press 1997/2010), offers background information, analyses, and interpretations of his seminal cycles for voice and piano – Ariettes oubliées (1885-1887), Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire (1887-1889), Trois mélodies de Verlaine, (1891), Fêtes galantes I + II (1891-1892/1904), Proses lyriques (1892-1893), Trois chansons de Bilitis (1897¬1898), Trois ballades de François Villon (1910), and Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913) – complemented by the cantata La damoiselle élue (1887-1888) and Debussy’s only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande (1902).

Siglind Bruhn, born in Hamburg and with a Ph.D. from the University of Vienna (Austria), is a music analyst, concert pianist, and interdisciplinary researcher. Since 1993 she has been affiliated with the University of Michigan’s Institute for the Humanities, where she is responsible for “Music in interdisciplinary dialogue.” She is the author of more than 25 book-length monographs, most of them in the field of 20th-century music’s relationship to literature, art, and religion. In 2001, she was elected to the European Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 2008 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from Linnaeus University (Sweden).

Authors

Siglind Bruhn:

A musicologist, concert pianist, and interdisciplinary scholar whose research focuses on compositions of the 20th century. Prior to coming to the United States, she taught for ten years in Germany and at the University of Hong Kong. Since 1993 she has been a full-time researcher at the University of Michigan�s Institute for the Humanities (one of six �Life Research Associates�); in the fall of 2004, she was appointed chercheur permanent at the Institut d�Esth�tique des Arts Contemporains at Universit� de Paris 1�La Sorbonne. She has been an elected member of the European Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2001.

Reviews

July 2, 2019

In fin-de-siècle Paris, composers encountered an artistic atmosphere that was crucially determined by a number of poets who met regularly in the famous cabaret "Le Chat Noir" and at Stéphane Mallarmé's Tuesday soirées. According to Paul Dukas, these poets conceived their texts like musicians or painters: "Verlaine, Mallarmé, and Laforgue presented us with new tones, new sounds. They projected lights onto their words as had never been seen before," thus developing an aesthetics that Charles Baudelaire had termed "la correspondance des arts." Claude Debussy (1862-1918), an avid reader of contemporary poetry, became a member of these circles when still in his early twenties. While as a student at the Paris conservatoire he had primarily set texts by poets from the generation of his parents and grandparents, he now turned to the lyric works of his contemporaries. The vocal cycles he composed in the course of the 30 years between 1885 and 1915 trace the path of his compositional development, which particularly since his encounter with the poetry of Paul Verlaine was defined by the quest for liberation from conventions handed down for too long. Debussy's Vocal Music and Its Poetic Evocations, the first of two intended complements to Images and Ideas in Modern French Piano Music, offers background information, analyses, and interpretations of his seminal cycles for voice and piano – Ariettes oubliées (1885-1887), Cinq poèmes de Charles Baudelaire (1887-1889), Trois mélodies de Verlaine (1891), Fêtes galantes I & II (1891-1892/1904), Proses lyriques (1892-1893), Trois chansons de Bilitis (1897-1898), Trois ballades de François Villon (1910), and Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913) – complemented by the cantata La damoiselle élue (1887-1888) and Debussy's only completed opera, Pelléas et Mélisande (1902). Author Siglind Bruhn was born in Hamburg, studied piano performance and comparative literature and philosophy before earning a doctorate at the University of Vienna in music analysis / musical hermeneutics. After years of teaching in Germany and at the University of Hong Kong, she has been since 1993 a Life Research Associate at the University of Michigan's Institute for the Humanities. Bruhn’s research in Debussy's Vocal Music and Its Poetic Evocations focuses on concert and operatic music of the 20th and 21st centuries, particularly in its relationship to literature, the fine arts, and religion. In addition to numerous essays and articles, Siglind has published more than 25 book-length monographs and five anthologies. Not included are the numerous individual songs, the twelve works for soloist(s) and/or choir with orchestra, and the four a cappella pieces. Other compositions in which Debussy was significantly inspired by poetry without however entrusting the words to a voice are the piano pieces "Claire de lune" from the Suite bergamasque and nos. 1/4, 1/8, and 11/2 of the Preludes, addressed in Images and Ideas, as well as several works reserved for a study on Debussy's instrumental music to be published next year. Debussy's Vocal Music and Its Poetic Evocations provides English translations for all poems cited.

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