During the first half of the twentieth century, France went through a turbulent time. It saw two world wars and social revolution. But despite all that, the country also took great strides in music. The man who set it all in motion was Achille-Claude Debussy, a composer who used non-traditional scales and Impressionist forms. In 1902 Debussy wrote an opera based on Pelléas et Mélisande by Maurice Maeterlinck. The symbolic play tells the story of Mélisande, who falls in love with Prince Pelléas after marry his brother. The two have an affair, which leads to a tragic ending. It was the only play Debussy ever finished. According to the Cambridge Opera Handbook, the composer once said 'For a long time I had been striving to write music for the theatre, but the form in which I wanted it to be was so unusual that after several attempts I had given up on the idea.'
So what inspired Debussy to complete Pelléas et Mélisande?
As part of the City of Light: Paris 1900-1950 series by the Philharmonic Orchestra, an afternoon of talks will be held discussing the opera. On the 23rd November, musicologists Caroline Potter, Caroline Rae and Richard Langham Smith will discuss the symbolism behind this seemingly conventional story, the controversy surrounding it, and the relevance Pelléas et Mélisande has today today. The seminar begins at 1pm in the JP Morgan Pavilion of the Southbank Centre. Tickets are £12.