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Musical Symbolism in the Operas of Debussy and Bartok$
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Elliot Antokoletz

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195365825

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195365825.001.0001

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Pelléas et Mélisande

Pelléas et Mélisande

Polarity of Characterizations: Human Beings as Real‐Life Individuals and Instruments of Fate

(p.55) 4 Pelléas et Mélisande
Musical Symbolism in the Operas of Debussy and Bartok

Elliott Antokoletz (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter looks at Act I, Prelude, according to its structure and leitmotifs associated with the “Forest”, “Fate”, “Mélisande”, and “Mélisande's Naïveté”. It discusses Golaud as political symbol, points to polarity as an internal principle of musico-dramatic structure, and uncovers the symbolic link between Mélisande and fate. The chapter then describes Act I, Scene 1 — the first meeting of Golaud and Mélisande — and points to the hybrid diatonic/whole-tone form of “Fate” and Golaud's “Love” motif. Then, it addresses the influences on the musical language and aesthetics of the Debussy opera, and the interaction of “Golaud”, “Mélisande”, and “Fate” motifs. The test of the will and the dual role of Mélisande as real-life being and instrument of fate are discussed. Next the chapter considers Act 1, Scene 2, here a room in the castle, and presents the first explicit text reference to “Fate” and the “Pelleas” motif. Finally, the chapter considers Act I, Scene 3 — before the castle — and further develops the “Mélisande” and “Fate” motifs.

Keywords:   leitmotifs, Forest, Fate, Mélisande, Mélisande's Naïveté political symbol, musico-dramatic structure, Golaud's Love motif

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