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Composing Symbolism's Musicality of Language in fin-de-siècle France

Description: In this dissertation, I explore the musical prosody of the literary symbolists and the influence of this prosody on fin-de-siècle French music. Contrary to previous categorizations of music as symbolist based on a characteristic "sound," I argue that symbolist aesthetics demonstrably influenced musical construction and reception. My scholarship reveals that symbolist musical works across genres share an approach to composition rooted in the symbolist concept of musicality of language, a concept that shapes this music on sonic, structural, and conceptual levels. I investigate the musical responses of four different composers to a single symbolist text, Oscar Wilde's one-act play Salomé, written in French in 1891, as case studies in order to elucidate how a symbolist musicality of language informed their creation, performance, and critical reception. The musical works evaluated as case studies are Antoine Mariotte's Salomé, Richard Strauss's Salomé, Aleksandr Glazunov's Introduction et La Danse de Salomée, and Florent Schmitt's La Tragédie de Salomé. Recognition of symbolist influence on composition, and, in the case of works for the stage, on production and performance expands the repertory of music we can view critically through the lens of symbolism, developing not only our understanding of music's role in this difficult and often contradictory aesthetic philosophy but also our perception of fin-de-siècle musical culture in general.
Date: August 2016
Creator: Varvir Coe, Megan E