Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande eBook

Lawrence Gilman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 60 pages of information about Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande.

[8] I quote it in the completer and more beautiful form in which it appears on page 57, measures 1-3.


[Illustration:  Modere]

It is repeated, with still more magical effect (scored for divided violins and violas, two muted horns, and harp), as Melisande remarks upon the clearness of the water, while the violins and violas weave about it a shimmering figure in sixteenth-notes with which its appearances are usually associated.  As Pelleas warns Melisande to take care, while she leans above the water along the marble edge of the basin, the clarinet, over a string accompaniment, announces an impassioned phrase (page 62, measure 3)—­the theme of Awakening Desire


[Illustration:  En animant]

As Pelleas questions Melisande about the ring with which she is playing,—­her wedding-ring,—­and when it falls into the water while she is tossing it in the air, we hear persistently the theme of Fate, which, with the Golaud theme (portentously sounded, pp, by horns and bassoons), closes the scene.  There is an interlude in which the Golaud, Melisande, and Fate themes are heard.

The rhythm of the latter theme mutters ominously in the bass as the second scene is disclosed.  When Golaud, lying wounded on his bed, describes to Melisande how, “at the stroke of noon,” his horse “swerved suddenly, with no apparent cause,” and threw him, as he was hunting in the forest ("could he have seen something extraordinary?"), the oboe recalls the theme of Awakening Desire, which was first heard as Melisande and Pelleas sat together by the fountain in the forest during the heat of midday.  The rhythm of the Fate motive is hinted by violas, ’cellos, and horns as Golaud, in answer to Melisande’s compassionate questioning, observes that he is “made of iron and blood.”  Melisande weeps, and the oboe sounds a plaintive variant of her motive (page 82, measure 2); the strings repeat it as she complains that she is ill.  Nothing has happened, no one has harmed her, she answers, in response to Golaud’s questionings:  “It is no one.  You do not understand me.  It is something stronger than I,” she says; and we hear the Pelleas theme, dulcetly harmonized, in the strings.  When, later, Golaud mentions his brother’s name inquiringly, and she replies that she thinks he dislikes her, although he speaks to her sometimes, we hear, very softly, the theme of Awakening Desire.  As their talk progresses to its climax, there is a recurrence of the Fate theme; then, as Golaud, upon discovering the loss of her wedding-ring, harshly tells her that he “would rather have lost everything than that,” the trombones and tuba declaim (page 99, measure 5) a threatening and sinister phrase which will later be more definitely associated with the thought of Golaud’s vengeful purpose: 

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Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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