The six ariettes were composed mostly in Rome in The first two were completed in Paris in March The poetry of Paul Verlaine had a more profound influence on Claude Debussy's music than did Debussy's closest literary or musical acquaintances. Debussy and Verlaine were both inspired by subtlety and nuance.
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Her research links the analysis of musical discourse to the literary poetics of texts and their oralisation. Device is incompatible to play the video. Share this lecture. Bookmark this lecture. Read More. Extra Lecture Materials. Word Transcript. Art and literature Music Literature. The vocal lines wobble from a recitative to large curves in arabesques in the same line; the former vocal melismas gives way to a syllabic prosody without any repetition of word; and then harmonic motion is more a continuity of colors than dependent of structural tensions.
The renewal of language as well as innovation in a known frame would be notable points of convergence between research of Claude Debussy and of Paul Verlaine. This similarity of creative attitudes is the starting point of this study. Even more, would it be possible to think that this first compositional period of his life , dedicated in great part to write and to rewrite melodies on poems of Verlaine, would be a period of preparation, of maturation of the modernity of his language, influenced by the work of the poet?
As well as Paul Verlaine shocks because the metrics remains in very flexible lines Verlaine, [i], Claude Debussy innovates because vocality and motive progression reside in different ways Following step by step the poetic behavior, I will raise the parallelism between the management of the poetic and musical materials, which leads to rethink the logic of progress of rhetorical discourse, poetical or musical.
The disposition of the poem in couplets allows receiving in a more sensitive way the alternation of story and speech, which mixes the description of natural phenomenon and the personal expression of the narrator. The articulation of these levels of break, between story and speech, in the poem, is a first challenge offered to the progress of the musical discourse, which Debussy raises.
The expression of the excess of feelings shown by the poem, so as to blind the real perception of the described landscape, is a second way of testing musical meaning: how to represent the excess, the saturation of colors? The relation to time in the poem, which plays on a repetitiveness of the past and on the previsibility of situations, can also question a composer, as his art handles time and length.
With devices of repetition in insignificant modifications, music also marks the flow of time. In conclusion, I will maintain that Debussy finally offers an alternative of motivic development by the use of motives and their juxtaposition.
To recall the spleen, object of his poem, Verlaine chooses to demonstrate tension between past and present. The organization in couplets is significant, recalling duality between the description of past and the narration of the present, alternately during first four couplets, then mixed for the two last couplets. The anaphora of the three last lines takes at the same time story and speech, in an amalgam which describes the landscape as well as the feeling of the narrator the spleen.
Claude Debussy makes the same progression, couplets by couplets, with the same length of melodic sentences: a line is quasi systematically distributed on two measures for the whole melody - except for the last line, stretched.
The alternation of recitation in linear movements for the description in the even couplets or with more animated and more flexible melody for the narration of the odd couplets is also found in voice and piano parts. As an example, the first couplet is recited recto tono: the linearity of enunciation and descriptive neutrality are recreated in music by recitative in the low tessitura of the voice, without the support of the piano.
On the opposite, the even couplets, bearing the expression of the lyric subject, follow more sinuous vocal lines, rythmically unstable, broken by silences and alternations of pitches, and using rhythmic patterns leading to a movement, like the doted eighth note, with its sixteenth note leading its resolution on the following downbeat. For example, both following lines of the second couplet are entirely in opposition: first of all by the tessiture used high F sharp , and by the ambitus high F sharp - low E flat.
The rhythmic disposition of notes is freer, introducing very variable prosody, in link with the diction of the text. This creates opposition with the monotony of the regular eighth notes of the first lines. The tempo is agitated Con moto, accompanied by a crescendo for line 3, then by two successive crescendi for line 4. The piano leaves the entire place to the voice for the beginning of the song, then it will take little by little a more significant importance, by the use of themes and musical motives unifying the whole work.
This musical treatment will be the object of our second part. But these melodic fragments, always different, disturbs the principle of coherence of the musical material of a piece at the end of the nineteenth century.
Debussy relies on other parameters than those of the speech of enunciation: repetition and saturation of the colors, present in the poem, allow him to accomplish in another way the thematic unit necessary for the tonal musical frame. The visual and sound proposal of Paul Verlaine: a tension suggested by work on repetitions and saturation.
Always in a research of signification thanks to poetic techniques, Verlaine works with the tones, with the length of syllables, to recall the spleen of the lyric subject, trying to illustrate orally the feeling of time in the poem.
The length of the declamation of the text seems stretched by the delivery imposed by the choice of words and groups of words. Excessive sound is significant of too violent visual sensation. Where story and speech seemed divided into couplets, we can point out that tones are led at the same time throughout all the couplets, already mixing feelings coming from description and feelings of the narrator.
The main motive of the melody, appearing at the beginning, at the end, and regularly during the piece, establishes itself as a continuously returning theme, just like the endless re-emergent sounds of despair in the poem. This theme is almost always the same: only its environment is changing, by a kind of process of evolution of its decor, more than a process of development or variation.
Displayed without accompaniment in introduction to the melody as you can see on the example , it is tonally ambiguous, and driven in a sinuous way towards the lowered IInd degree to the Vth degree, assuming lately a tonic of F minor.
It goes through all the couplets, story-telling ones or speech ones, in an irregular way. The reappearance of the main theme, as well as other punctual techniques as the recurrent rhythm of doted eighth note and sixteenth note, or the chromatic movements in the piano part, throughout the melody, participate for the total construction of poetic evocation, by recreating networks of tones throughout work.
I suggest now to listen to a performance of this song, by Sandrine Piau and Jos van Immersel, in order to listen to the moving of the tempi and the flexibility of the accompanying motives, to feel this creation of a time space. The unit of the piece is carried by the musical material in reply to the poetic material.
This motto seems to be treated as a significant aspect of the languid spleen, arriving at a paroxysm in final evocation, and presented always barely changed. Another effect is present, raised according to the evocation of the poem: the work on the flow of time, as its stretching, its widening, its acceleration, thanks to the techniques of juxtaposition, of superimposing and of elasticity of motives.
The time always seems unstable cf. Gautier, under every line, even if the regular metric of the octosyllable is observable, then this instability is overlapped by reiterations of musical motives. The temporal perception is flustered, by this not foreseeable, irregular reminiscence of theme, as movements of energy more than development of thematic material.
We feel a more flexible musical temporality, linked to the dilution of marks of tonality, and of harmonic rhythm which underlay it. If the length of this piece is finally very short less than 3 minutes , the musical time recalls at the same time haste and infinity, heavy trouble and ardent passion, speeding the time up and dilating the instant.
The understanding of linguistics and poetics appeared very essential for such a work: necessary, intrinsically linked to the development of this language in acts - poetical or musical language.
This research wants to bring elements in understanding the way Claude Debussy worked out his language, notably his treatment of the musical material and his temporal behavior in music. Rhythmic anticipation, juxtaposition, overlapping with dilated or stressed motives, show how to use temporality in a very short space. Each prelude immobilizes one minute of the universal life of things, an instant of the history of the world, and it stops this universal life out of any future and of any succession, without relation neither with before nor with after.
These pictures, at the same time eternal and momentary, form a heterogeneous tapestry of escaped impressions. Related Future Lectures. Part of a series. What is the opening chord of a Hard Day's Night? Close X. Upcoming Lectures. Dickens: The Last Decade. Is Populism a Threat to Democracy? De-radicalisation - Illusion or Reality? Leadership Lessons From Lockdown. The Family Court in Lockdown. Newsletter Sign up to receive a monthly email newsletter of our future lectures and events.
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Part Eight: Verlaine's poetry performed through Debussy's musical sounds: 'Spleen' in text and song
Ariettes oubliées (Debussy, Claude)