‘Le Paradis deux fois perdu’: Debussy, Watteau and the fête galante

Smith, R. L. (2017) ‘Le Paradis deux fois perdu’: Debussy, Watteau and the fête galante. In: Historical Interplay in French Music and Culture, 1860–1960. Routledge, Abingdon, UK. ISBN 9781472474759 (hardback) 9781315586847 (e-book)


A study of Debussy's interest in and settings of poems by Banville and Verlaine based on the themes of the Fête Galante as depicted by Antoine Watteau and others. Description of Historical Interplay in French Music and Culture, 1860–1960: This edited volume of case studies presents a selective history of French music and culture, but one with a dynamic difference. Eschewing a traditional chronological account, the book explores the nature of relationships between one main period, broadly 1860–1960, and its own historical ‘others’, referencing topics from the Romantic, classical, baroque, renaissance and medieval periods. It probes the emergent interplay, intertextualities and scope for reinterpretation across time and place. Notions of cultural meaning are paramount, especially those pertaining to French identity, national and individual. While founded on historical musicology, the approach benefits from interdisciplinary association with philosophy, history, literature, fine art, film studies and criticism. Attention is paid to French composers’ celebrations and remakings of their predecessors. Editions of and writings about earlier music are examined, together with the cultural reception of productions and performances of past repertoire. Organized into two parts, each of the eleven chapters characterizes a specific cultural network or temporal interplay, which may result in synthesis, disjunction, or historical misreading. The interwar years and those surrounding the Second World War prove particularly rich sources of enquiry. This volume aims to attract a wide readership of musicologists and musicians, as well as cultural historians, other humanities scholars and concert-goers. Chapter 2 Abstract: Devotees of French music interplaying with the past might suggest Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin as a landmark. Banville's melancholic reading of Watteau found echoes in Verlaine and Debussy who, from his first settings onwards of poems from the Fêtes galantes, alighted on poems with darker themes set against the plaisirs. Both French and English composers' interest in the fête galante was particularly intense in the 1880s when Debussy began to use pastiche baroque forms to evoke it. Louis Rosoor, one of the work's early interpreters recounted, in programme notes for his concerts, a remark Debussy made to him explaining the movement: 'Pierrot wakes up with a start, shaking off his sleepiness. He rushes to deliver a serenade to his belle who, despite his pleas, remains impervious. He consoles himself for his failure singing a song of freedom'.

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