Ernest Chausson made two major aesthetic decisions in the mid-1880s: he resolved to “dewagnerize” himself and declared that he would no longer write program music. These developments were coeval with Chausson's revisions of Viviane (composed 1882–83, revised 1887 and 1893), a symphonic poem that shares musical material and subject matter with the composer's magnum opus, Le Roi Arthus (1886–95). Drawing on unpublished sketches and manuscripts of Viviane, I trace how Chausson's evolving aesthetics manifested themselves in his revisions of the work. While he suppressed evidence of Wagnerian mimicry, the process of “dewagnerization” was equivocal; Viviane ultimately became more beholden to certain Wagnerian dramaturgical ideals. At the same time, Chausson brought Viviane more closely in line with sonata procedures, inviting the listener to appreciate the work on its purely sonic merits at a time when the composer was becoming less sympathetic to the idea of “descriptive music.” I conclude by discussing the connections between Viviane and Le Roi Arthus and exploring how Chausson's reuse of material from the symphonic poem sheds light on issues of influence and signification in the opera.
Ernest Chausson's Viviane, “Déwagnérisation,” and the Problem of Descriptive Music
Mark Seto is associate professor of music at Connecticut College, where he conducts the college orchestra and teaches music history and theory. His research explores issues of influence, nationalism, and identity in the symphonic culture of fin-de-siècle Paris. He is Artistic Director of the Chelsea Symphony and was the founding Music Director of Morningside Opera, both in New York City.
I am grateful to Walter Frisch, Karen Henson, Robert Hymes, Sylvia Kahan, Sean Parr, and the anonymous readers of this journal for their invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this article.
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Mark Seto; Ernest Chausson's Viviane, “Déwagnérisation,” and the Problem of Descriptive Music. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2017; 41 (1): 48–74. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2017.41.1.48
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