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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche's revolutionary study, originally had a much longer title when it appeared in 1872: The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music. Although Nietzsche does discuss the importance of melos in primitive Dionysian ritual, it is really his own book that grew out of the spirit of late German Romantic music. Symbolist poetics, which generated the subsequent development of modern poetry, was also born out of the spirit of music and largely nurtured in ideas of music. The Symbolists returned the favor to the art of music, though, for modern European music was partly gestated in the theories of Symbolist poetics. Developments in the fields of poetry and music in the late nineteenth century were also a result of purely linear influences. Musicians affected the work of later musicians and poetry written by influential figures had impact on subsequent poets. Nevertheless, the cultural ambience of the fin de siècle was one that lent itself to crossfertilization between the arts. The object of this study is to unravel and retrace major strands in the complex pattern of interrelationships between the arts of music and literature in the late nineteenth century and to follow the manifestations of these substrata of interrelations in major works of art written in the early twentieth century.

John Hollander's Untuning of the Sky: Ideas of Music in English Poetry traces music as an image in English poetry from 1500 to 1700. Hollander was especially interested in the gradual breakdown of the image of Christian world harmony. In the nineteenth century, the word of the poet was retuned, but this time to the actual sounds of music, for the Symbolists tried to approximate the textural flow of music. Furthermore, as the cogent system of organized sound -- functional tonal harmony -- gradually was stretched beyond its limitations, the art of music yielded, as Arnold Schoenberg observed, to literary influence. Music, then, attempted to tune itself to fit the word.

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