Mallarmé and music

From September 29th, 1998 to January 31st, 1999
Paul Gauguin-L'Après-midi d'un faune
Paul Gauguin
L'Après-midi d'un faune, Vers 1892
©photo Vulaines-sur-Seine, musée départemental Stéphane Mallarmé, Magdeleine Bonnamour/DR

The relationship between Mallarmé and music was diverse. Attracted to this art, he regularly attended concerts, sometimes with Debussy, and heard the symphonic as well as operatic repertory. His admiration was also directed towards musical notation, which he described as "a macabre processions of severe, chaste, unknown signs".
The attraction for musicians of his work does not come as a surprise. Simple accompaniments to lyrics, passionately dedicated scores and works inspired by his poems and thoughts, composed in all periods, are shown in the exhibition in order to demonstrate the ever-growing multiplicity of Mallarmé's relationship with music.
Debussy's chef-d'oeuvre, the Prélude à l'Après-midi d'un faune, an evocation of the famous poem, was a turning point in the way Mallarmé was understood by musicians. Later, Milhaud , Sauguet, Freitas-Branco, Hindemith, and also Maurice Jaubert and Pierre Vellones set works by Mallarmé. The notion of evocation can be found in the work of composers as different as Gilbert Amy and Sylvano Bussotti.
It was only after World War II that Mallarmé's structural and intellectual potential was exploited by composers. This interest in structure and form coincided, in the 1950s, with the trend of musical chance developed and presented at Darmstadt summer classes attended by, among others, Boulez, Stockhausen and Bussotti.
Boulez told Stockhausen about his discovery of Mallarmé's Book after he had begun composing his Third Sonata. This transposition of the Book into music took stock of the notions of chance and open form other composers, including Stockhausen, were already using at the time without direct reference to Mallarmé. Klavierstück XI, Zyklus and Refrain, presented in the exhibition and performed separately in concert, were designed as open-form pieces allowing the performer to chose his circuit freely within the piece.
In 1998, two commissions made on the occasion of the centenary pursue the multiple relationship between Mallarmé and music. Voiles by Denis Cohen, for five instruments, recorded voice and computer combines a high degree of formalisation and the constant presence of the sung poem. With Bussotti, the object-score of Questo Fauno for three instruments, bass voice and narrator, perpetuates the theme of the Faune.


  • Pierre Corzilius, responsible for musical activities, Musée d'Orsay

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