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date: 06 June 2020

Mélodie (Fr.: ‘melody’)locked

  • David Tunley
  •  and Frits Noske


(Fr.: ‘melody’)

The term usually applied to 19th- and early 20th-century romantic French song, particularly in its later stages. Its link to an earlier form, the romance (see Romance, §3, (i)), is so close that the two cannot be considered in isolation. Both terms were sometimes applied to the same song, and the songs of Schubert, partly responsible for the transformation of the romance into the more sophisticated mélodie, were sometimes called German romances by French critics. At the end of the 19th century the term ‘romance’ was still in currency, in the songs of no less than Chabrier. As this interchange of terminology implies, there are no firm boundaries; common to both, and deriving from the simple romance, is the quality of graceful, tender lyricism.

Just as the lied owed much of its inspiration to romantic German lyric poetry, so the 19th-century mélodie was indebted to the rising school of French romantic poetry headed by Lamartine, Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset and others. The texts set ranged from poetry of passionate utterance to that of domestic sentimentality, while the French literary fascination with orientalism and the exotic also found an outlet in song. Yet if romantic poetry was the inspiration for composers for some three-quarters of a century, that of the ‘symbolists’ Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mallarmé was the inspiration for many later composers, particularly Debussy. The ...

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