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Timelessness in French Music: Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
AuthorBartnick, Natalie O.
MusicWorld Languages and Literatures
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Musicologists have long commented on an absence of progression in much of French music at the end of the nineteenth century, or fin de siècle. Throughout this thesis, I will be referring to this as “timelessness” or “stasis.” During the fin de siècle, France, as well as much of Europe, was going through a period of rapid change due in part to the international standardization of time and the fallout from the Franco-Prussian war. Artists were grappling with these changes through their art, from literature to music. This thesis will explore the concept of timelessness in French music during this period by looking at two works by Claude Debussy, one of the most well-known composers of the time as well as a lover of symbolist literature. His opera Pelléas et Mélisande and his ballet Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune will be analyzed within the contexts of two particular story-telling modes, and can be understood as a reaction against German music where teleological, or goal-oriented, musical processes like tonal harmony dominated music. These collaborative works with Maurice Maeterlinck and Stéphane Mallarmé can be seen as reactions to the various disruptions of French culture, which can give scholars a deeper look into the relationship between art and society.