Musical Symbolism in the Operas of Debussy and Barti'Ak: Trauma, Gender, and the Unfolding of the Unconscious

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $44.35
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 64%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (9) from $44.35   
  • New (6) from $77.72   
  • Used (3) from $44.35   


Two early twentieth-century operas — Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande (1902) and Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle (1911) — transformed the traditional major/minor scale system into a new musical language. This new language was based almost exclusively on interactions between folk modalities and their more abstract symmetrical transformations. Elliott Antokoletz reveals not only the new musical language of these operas, but also the way in which they share a profound correspondence with the growing symbolist literary movement as reflected in their libretti. In the symbolist literary movement, authors reacted to the realism of nineteenth-century theatre by conveying meaning by suggestion, rather than direct statement. The symbolist conception included a new interest in psychological motivation and consciousness manifested itself in metaphor, ambiguity, and symbol.

In this groundbreaking study, Antokoletz links the new musical language of these two operas with this symbolist conception and reveals a direct connection between the Debussy and Bartok operas. He shows how the opposing harmonic extremes serve as a basis for the dramatic polarity between real-life beings and symbols of fate. He also explores how the libretti by Franco-Belgian poet Maurice Maeterlinck (Pelleas et Melisande) and his Hungarian disciple Bela Balazs (Duke Bluebeard's Castle) transform the internal concept of subconscious motivation into an external one, one in which fate controls human emotions and actions.

Using a pioneering approach to theoretical analysis, Antokoletz, explores the new musico-dramatic relations within their larger historical, social psychological, philosophical, and aesthetic contexts.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"For its organization, scope, and rigorous theoretic-analytical scrutiny, the book is a landmark in multidisciplinary studies that surround the dramaturgical and musical concepts of these two Symbolist operas. It integrates insights from psychoanalysis, feminist studies, and post-tonal theory to enrich our understanding of dramatic meaning suggested by the musical symbolism. The book is remarkable for its in-depth musical approach to a variety of psychological, social, and historical issues, which the author has drawn into the aesthetic orbit of these pioneering operas."—George Perle

"This book provides new and essential technical methodology for approaching the compositional language of these operatic masterpieces. Of equal significance is the author's presentation of profound insights into their psychological issues rarely encountered in musicological literature. Not only will scholars and students acquire a deeper understanding of the radical changes in the traditional tonal language that occurred in the early twentieth century, but also the whole notion of symbolism and its reflection in both drama and its characterizations."—Benjamin Suchoff, University of California, Los Angeles

"In Musical Symbolism in the Operas of Debussy and Bartok, Elliott Antokoletz pushes our understanding of music drama to new depths as he, in collaboration with his wife, a psychologist, uses the insights of psychoanalysis to explore a close reading of character, gender relationships, and dramatic motion in music setting Maeterlinck's plays. Exploring the works as symbolic representations of trauma and related emotions, he shows how musical correspondences distinguish between the agency of humans and fate, the unfolding of internal and external processes. This unveils the modernism of these operas in original and provocative ways."—Jann Pasler, University of California, San Diego

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195103830
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/22/2004
  • Pages: 360
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Elliott Antokoletz is Professor of Musicology at the University of Texas at Austin. He received the Bela Bartok Memorial Plaque and Diploma from the Hungarian Government in 1981. He is author of several books and co-editor of the International Journal of Musicology.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

1 Backgrounds and development : the new musical language and its correspondence with psycho-dramatic principles of symbolist opera 3
2 The new musical language 14
3 Trauma, gender, and the unfolding of the unconscious 30
4 Pelleas et Melisande : polarity of characterizations : human beings as real-life individuals and instruments of fate 55
5 Pelleas et Melisande : fate and the unconscious : transformational function of the dominant ninth chord; symbolism of sonority 84
6 Pelleas et Melisande : musico-dramatic turning point : intervallic expansion as symbol of dramatic tension and change of mood 117
7 Pelleas et Melisande : Melisande as Christ symbol - life, death, and resurrection - and motivic reinterpretations of the whole-tone dyad 147
8 Pelleas et Melisande : circuity of fate and resolution of Melisande's dissonant pentatonic - whole-tone conflict 173
9 Duke Bluebeard's castle : psychological motivation : symbolic interaction of diatonic, whole-tone, and chromatic extremes 182
10 Duke Bluebeard's castle : toward character reversal : reassignment of pentatonic and whole-tone spheres 207
11 Duke Bluebeard's castle : the Nietzschean condition and polarity of characterizations : diatonic-chromatic extremes 234
12 Duke Bluebeard's castle : final transformation and retreat into eternal darkness : synthesis of pentatonic/diatonic and whole-tone spheres 248
13 Symbolism and expressionism in other early twentieth-century operas 262
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)