The Tuning of the Word: The Musico-Literary Poetics of the Symbolist Movement


David Michael Hertz explicates the relationship between the music and poetry of the Symbolist movement, tracing it from its inception in Baudelaire's verse and Wagner's music to its final transformation into Modernism in the works of Schoenberg. Hertz begins by examining the concept of the period, the well-rounded phrase of verse or music, which was attacked first in Wagner's use of the leitmotif and unusual intervals such as the tritone. Such musical elements created a feeling of emotion directly expressed, unhampered by convention. This approach was further developed by Mallarmé, who stripped his verse of its conventional framework in an attempt to create images of pure emotion. Mallarmé in turn influenced Debussy. Hertz shows that in setting Mallarmés verse, Debussy moved further away from the standard harmonic structures of the nineteenth century, particularly in his use of tonal ambiguity. Hertz explores the aesthetic of the Symbolist movement as embodied in the unique forms that characterized the era, the tone poem and the lyric play. He dem- onstrates the particular importance of Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mé1isande, which was scored by Debussy. A revolutionary work difficult to characterize, it speaks gracefully of the transformation of Romanticism into Modernism. Citing examples of art, literature, and music, Hertz finds ultimately that the Symbolist aesthetic came to encompass the entire artistic world. Only a scholar thoroughly at home in both the literary and musical realms and possessing a sovereign command of the cultural climate and currents of the period would be able to deliver exactly what his subtitle promises: a musico- literary poetics of the Symbolist movement.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Carbondale, IL
Publication year:
  • 1987


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