Session|séance 2.2. Deciding What's Correct

Session|séance 2-2. Deciding What’s Correct.
Room: 11-463. Chair: Kent Sangster.

Wednesday|mercredi 23 May|mai 2018. 11:30AM-12:30PM

2.2.2 Quirky Connections: Telling Tales in Debussy’s Préludes (deuxième livre)

Gregory Marion, University of Saskatchewan

Assessing “connectedness” among Debussy’s Préludes (1911-12) against an uncommon backdrop exposes an intricate network of stories within stories; that backdrop, however, is de rigueur in numerous 20th-century postmodernist novels, where interrogating the very act of reading represents a manifest aim. Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (1979) stands as counterpart to the piano composition, thus: Calvino’s novel is to engaged reading what Debussy’s second book of Préludes is to engaged listening.

Each work makes sport of the malleable boundaries between past, present, and future, underscoring the point that meaning transcends chronology. In the Calvino, we are enjoined to assemble idiosyncratic threads interspersed throughout the book’s chapters and its interruptive novellas (novellas which “appear” to be bound neither to the chapters themselves, nor to one another). This clinic on reading, or better, on inter-reading is made all the more compelling by Calvino’s self-insertion into the process of navigating the interpretive morass.

With Debussy, the curious titles affixed to the conclusion of each prelude equate with Calvino’s interruptive novellas; more critically, however, comprehending the role of the pervasive changing surfaces encountered throughout Traveler provides a frame of reference for a nuanced inter-reading of the Debussy: in the first instance, there are the overt connections that essentially “step out of time” and in so doing tie together groups of adjoining preludes—as with the end-to-beginning bonds linking the opening three pieces.

Subtler are the many curious moments in the Préludes that are decidedly out of place with their immediate surroundings. These same quirky gestures, however, resonate with defining motives in other locations in the collection, allying non-contiguous pieces in fascinating ways.  Consider the three-note link into the return of the cakewalk theme in “Général Lavine.” This whole-tone gesture [Bb – Ab – Gb] occurs once in “Lavine,” and is thus unmotivated by its surroundings. But the gesture assumes a prominent role at the head of “Feux d’artifice,” the final prelude in book two. On closer examination, a number of additional sounds in “Général Lavine” resonate in the opening measures of “Feux d’artifice”: the tritone [Ab - D] in measures 25 – 28 of “Lavine” assumes a leading role in the initial section of “Feux d’artifice” (m. 3 and beyond); and the pentatonic pattern in “Lavine’s” bass (m. 35 ff.) is also decidedly cross-referential. Further, by partitioning the ascent through the pentatonic pattern in the way that he has, Debussy sets in relief the dyad [C – D] and the trichord [F – G – A]—even the quickest perusal of Example 1 (below) confirms that the two- and the three-note fragments from “Lavine’s” bass motive drives “Feux d’artifice.” It remains, however, for the whole-tone gesture in m. 34 of “Lavine” to transform these associations among non-contiguous preludes into a formidable nexus: the direct access from one piece to another that I am advocating would hardly seem possible in the absence of a nodal point such as the whole-tone gesture.


Calvino and Debussy each exploit localized disruption, establishing such moments as portals accessing networks of disjointed and yet linked events. To the extent that the paper sheds light on the constraints of linearity, it provides another means by which to engage novelty in Debussy.


Example 1: Excerpts from “Général Lavine–excentric”and “Feux d’artifice”



Selective References

Alegant, Brian and McLean, Don. 2007. “On the Nature of Structural Framing.” Nineteenth-Century Music Review, 4/1: 3-29.

Barthes, Roland. 1975. “An Introduction to the Structural Analysis of Narrative” New Literary History, 6/2: 237-272. Translated from the French by Lionel Duisit [1966. “Introduction a l’analyse structurale des recits,” Communications, 8: 1-27].

Biasi, Gian-Paolo. 1989. Montale, Debussy, and Modernism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Calvino, Italo. 1981. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Translated from the Italian by William Weaver [1979. Se una note d’iverno. Torino: Giulio Einaudi].

Charle, Christophe. 2001. “Debussy in Fin-de-Siècle Paris.” In Debussy and his World. Edited by Jane Fulcher. Princeton: Princeton University Press: 271–95.

Cummins, Linda. 2006. Debussy and the Fragment. New York: Chiasma Press.

Debussy, Claude. 1985. Oeuvres Complètes de Claude Debussy, Ser. 1, vol. 5. Edited by Roy Howat and Claude Helffer. Paris: Durand.

DeVoto, Mark. 2004. Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music. Hillsdale, N.Y.: Pendragon Press.

Donnellon, Déirdre. 2003. “Debussy as Musician and Critic.” In The Cambridge Companion to Debussy. Edited by Simon Trezise. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 43–58.

Kramer, Jonathan. 1988. The Time of Music. New York: Schirmer Books.

Lewis, Christopher. 1996. “The Mind’s Chronology: Narrative Time and Harmonic Disruption in Postromantic Music.” In The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality. Edited by William Kinderman and Harald Krebs. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 114–49.

McFarland, Mark. 2004. “Debussy: the Origins of a Method.” Journal of Music Theory, 48/2: 295-324.

Marder, Elissa. 2001. Dead Time: Temporal Disorders in the Wake of Modernity (Baudelaire and Flaubert). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Marion, Gregory. 1999. “A Foreground Mist? Debussy's Brouillards.” Current Musicology 66: 21-65.

Paulin, Scott. 2010. “Cinematic” Music: Analogies, Fallacies, and the Case of Debussy.” Music and the Moving Image, Vol. 3/1: 1-21.

Pasler, Jann. 1993. “Postmodernism, Narrativity, and the Art of Memory.” Contemporary Music Review 7/2: 3-32.

Roberts, Paul. 1996. Images: the Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.

Wheeldon, Marianne. 2004. “Interpreting Discontinuity in the Late Works of Debussy.” Current Musicology, 77: 97-115.

__________. 2000-01. “Interpreting ‘Strong Moments’ in Debussy's ‘La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune.’” Intégral, Vol. 14/15: 181-208.

2.2.1. Mendelssohn’s Felicitous Solutions to Rhythmic Problems in Strophic Songs.

Harald Krebs, University of Victoria

Felix Mendelssohn’s songs have frequently been criticized for careless declamation. My investigations of Mendelssohn’s songs, however, reveal that he is very much concerned with appropriate declamation. I focus in this paper on his successful and creative responses in his strophic settings to rhythmic inconsistencies in successive stanzas of the poetry. I shall briefly discuss “Sonntagslied,” op. 34 no. 5, in which the opening motive, resulting in counterintuitive metrical placements of iambic feet, works perfectly for the third stanza, where the poet (Klingemann) switches to dactylic/trochaic meter. It is apparent that Mendelssohn carefully considered the rhythm of the entire poem, and composed his first two strophes with the climactic final stanza already in mind.

The bulk of my paper will deal with the early Droysen setting, “Ferne” (op. 9 no. 9). The final line of Droysen’s last stanza (“WENN du HEIMkehrst”) deviates rhythmically from the corresponding earlier lines (“DA wo Du WEILST”). Mendelssohn’s maintaining of the same rhythm results in incorrect declamation of the final word (“heimKEHRST”). He skillfully mitigates this “error” by setting it up as the culmination of an expressive process: in the first two strophes, he dynamically accents “Du” in “Du weilst” and then, in the final strophe, places a fermata on “HEIM-.” The resulting strong durational accent causes this moment to be perceived as the final link in a chain of accented fourth beats. Mendelssohn ends the song by repeating the line “wenn du HEIMkehrst” with a new melody that brings the stressed syllable “home” to the expected downbeat location.


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