Mr Tutor Mark, you've set a lot of homework! I've printed the poem in English and French and am starting work! An interesting exercise: don't expect a reply today though!
PS: Just noticed that the score too can be seen online at:
I'm not sure it can help you out, Mark and Chris, but I don't think Debussy wished to depict in music what it's written in Mallarme's poem. As usually, the poem is a point de depart (a starting point), an inspiration. The music may simply evoke it. Nothing more or else.
However, you may keep searching for any sort of "certainty".
As for performances, Martinot is always an "authority" in Debussy, but his recordings cannot do much justice to his Art. Dutoit is closer to an ideal performance, as Icaron suggested. However, there are some more to enjoy beyond the big names of authority in French music, like Ashkenazy on Exton, Kreizberg on Pentatone and so on.
Thanks you two. The score paper is amazing!
Parla what you say is useful thanks. As in that comment by Satie above, we can't perhaps take programmatic music too literally.
Homework from Chris, better late than never (perhaps).
Mark, I’ve read the poem several times in English before listening to several performances of the music, and the result, it must be said, is no clear conclusion! In my previous post I compared L-apres midi with La Mer. The latter has only short titles for each movement, to give us a clue as to what Debussy is aiming to describe/evoke in his music. It is enough. In the case of the Prelude, like you Mark, I had known it for years without having read the poem. Does reading the poem in detail add anything to the music? For me, doubtful I think.
First the music itself. The simplest analysis would, I suppose, have an almost ABA form. A languid section dominated by the intertwining of flute(s) and oboes, a more overtly (from 3’00”)‘romantic’ section dominated by strings and horns, and (at 6’00”) a return to the material of the languid first section.
Some things we can clearly find in the poem. In the first section, Debussy catches perfectly from the start the feeling of a hot, sultry, Mediterranean day and of course takes up the repeated references to the sound of pipes (flutes and oboes). Their intertwining may also describe the erotic intertwining of the nymphs? Then comes a more erotic ‘B’ part. Now, if we are following the poem, it becomes more difficult. This section begins with the mildly aggressive section dominated by angry figures from the clarinets. (from 3’00’ to 3’30”). This seems to me to be the only point in the music that could depict the faun’s separation of the nymphs. But if so, surely it is too early, and why is this followed by the most erotic/romantic section of the music, and why a really rather simple return to the flutes and oboes and the opening mood? Perhaps this is the dissonance referred to by the poet.
Interestingly,within what I’ve called the ‘B’ part, we may possibly see some more specific reference to the poem, depending on the view of the conductor in question. Conductors such as Munch and Cluytens, who tend to emphasise (superbly) the romantic side of Debussy’s music, tend to emphasise that side of the music in this section, with rich, full strings supported by glowing horns. Lovely. Compare with Boulez (and as far as I remember Monteux) and a different view emerges with the disturbing woodwind figures given much more prominence - something these performances share with one of the earliest recordings [from 1930, by Walther Straram and his Orchestre de Concerts Straram (reissued by Andante)]. These, and probably other recordings that I don’t know) give to different degrees a more disturbing feel to this section, perhaps more in tune with the intentions of the poet).
Ultimately I think Parla is largely right in saying “I don't think Debussy wished to depict in music what it's written in Mallarme's poem. As usually, the poem is a point de depart (a starting point), an inspiration.” Perhaps there are illusions to particular parts of the poem, but whether these are important for the listener, I’m doubtful. As for the ‘dissonance referred to by the poet, my guess would be that it concerned the more ‘romantic’ style of the middle section, something which appears to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the performance.
In passing, a comparison that might be interesting is with Schoeberg’s Verklärte Nacht, based around a poem by Richard Dehmel. Perhaps another day!
PS: My timings refer to Munch, Boulez and Straram, all of whom take almost exactly 9’00” for the work. Martinon and Dutoit are much slower and take 10’30” and appropriate adjustments are required!
Chris thanks for your bumper epistle! Seriously, thanks it's fascinating stuff. I'll award you an A-, only because I wanted even more!
Yes I think the most romantic part is the lush string writing in the central section. I think we're in agreement in a way about the overall mood perhaps being too romantic and sensuous for the poet's liking.
The violin solo moment also seems a bit sickly-sweet, but I am only quibbling with this great piece. I'll try to find some 'harder' interpretations of it like the ones you mention.
(Sorry to cut it short - I have to prepare the music for a funeral service on Tuesday and I only got the call Thursday night and the music passed to me yesterday, so it doesn't give me much time - as it tends to be with these things. So I'm off to get the old rusty fingers going!)
OK. More to do! I suppose I did not attempt an answer to your final general question:
"I think what I was getting at in the original post Chris was that sometimes when you look at the issues and differing interpretations and analyses of something it can seem that there are no certainties about that thing. In this case there have been I gather lots of debates about the exact correlation between text and poem."
I will think more about this later today, or at least by the time you have finished your musical work.
Here is the supplement to my homework. Whether it will improve my A- grade or not I'm not sure.
Mark, you wrote: "I think what I was getting at in the original post Chris was that sometimes when you look at the issues and differing interpretations and analyses of something it can seem that there are no certainties about that thing. In this case there have been I gather lots of debates about the exact correlation between [musical] text and poem."
Yes, as you say the debates about the extent and manner of correlation between the poem and the music, and the different responses of different interpreters to that challenge, are but an example of the issues concerning different interpretations of the same work. What does this mean for the integrity of the score?
Staying with the Debussy Prelude for a moment, My personal view is that neither different readings of the poem nor differing views of the relevance of the poem to the music are the main reasons for the different emphases of different performances. There are enough opportunities in the music itself for such diversity. More likely, I suspect, conductors may look to the poem in order to find in it aspects which reinforce their existing views on the interpretation of the music.
In the same way, I believe that most performers, whatever they claim, do not start looking at the score as a blank sheet of paper: they each see from the start aspects of the score that demand their attention, and others that are subordinate, these aspects depending on their musical personalities.
None of this detracts from the integrity of the score, the source, which each performer tries to bring to life according to his ability and his temperament. Indeed it is the integrity of the score that enables the work to survive performances, however varied, unscathed It’s that extra layer between the text (the equivalent of the painting, or sculpture) and the listener, one which is different each time the work is performed, that makes music the greatest of the arts for me.
This is my very personal view! Does this resonate with anyone else, or bring out only dissonance?
D- Absolute waffle. I suspect most of this is plagiarized from the Gramophone forum.
Sorry Chris wrong essay!
(Just a little jest).
Ok then I will up your grade to an A!
Back later today...
Hi Chris. Very interesting what you say. I think you are right that differing interpretations do not detract from the integrity of the score, and that there are opportunities for diversity in different readings.
What's interesting about programme music is that it brings in a new element of a painting or a poem or an other work in a different art form (incidental music to Shakespeare's...).
To me this other layer of reference adds depth and richness to one's subjective interpretation. When I was younger I picked up a feeling that 'programme music' was somehow inferior to 'absolute music', which seems crazy now because, as I say, of this other point of reference.
Of course, how far we go in our imaginative response will vary. It seems sort of 'obvious' that there are chords in Debussy's Sunken Cathedral prelude which are meant to suggest the sunken pillars themselves. The 'long and winding road' in front of the castle comes to mind when you hear The Old Castle by Mussorgsky.
The debate has raged before about 'subjective' versus 'analytical' responses - they don't exclude each other.
Thanks Mark, for your interesting comments. There is much more to be said about this subject, moving from poems to epigrams to pictures..... but I shall be away for a few days so they will have to wait! it seems that this subject fascinates only the two of us at the moment too. Never mind! Two is enough.
all the best,
It seems so, Chris and Mark, but it is good and (sometimes) fascinating reading for some of us, including me.
The reasons I didn't embark on this debate are: a) I don't find the piece in question too exciting; it leaves rather cold and somehow indifferent and b) I don't see it as "programmatic music" but more as a depiction of the general picture of the Mallarme's poem.
Having said that, I have to commend you for an interesting and, at times, stimulating debate.