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Subject: "Three Doctorate Degrees"
From: Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Genevieve Castle Room <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 30 Aug 2017 22:12:10 -0400

text/plain (71 lines)


>"Paul Henry Lang earned his third doctorate from Cornell while teaching
and counterpoint at other colleges. It was on French opera"

On French opera?

Ok let's take a look at what Professor Lang wrote about Pelléas in his book
"Critic at the Opera" from 1973.

>"As we cast a critical eye on the score of Pelléas et Mélisande we
discover that the musical substance of this opera is slight; sometimes
flickering, sometimes dimmed almost to extinction, yet never dying
completely, it asserts itself to any extent only in the instrumental
preludes and interludes [....] This is indeed a strange musical language:
expression hides behind the words, requiring constant alertness to the
niceties of inflection and cadence. The orchestral part may follow its own
rhythms, but the vocal line is purely word-begotten; the music almost
completely abdicates its rights and privileges since the vocal lines have
little or no musical substance [....] Is it a fault that Pelléas et
Mélisande is not a real opera? No, only a peculiarity. It was created by a
composer to whom sensuous, hedonistic beauty is more important than the
weight of utterances"


I must say my mind boggled when I read this last night.... What an oddly
ahistorical pronouncement!

Isn't very weird to see a scholar of French opera taking issue with
Debussy's unique, declamatory style and complaining about the 'musical
substance' of what is certainly one of the greatest operas of all time?!

I certainly don't understand his criticism that Debussy forces one to focus
on the text. And isn't Maeterlinck's language one in which expression often
"hides behind the words"? This is something that Debussy captures so
movingly. And his claim that "the vocal lines have little or no musical
substance" is simply UNTRUE as are other of his seemingly objective
assertions. As I am sure you know Debussy himself answered this charge -
and others - in his reply to the critics which he wrote in response to the
reviews of the premiere.

Lang's remarks also bring to mind something that Joseph Kerman once said:

>"Musicology deals essentially with the factual, the documentary, the
verifiable, the analysable, the postivistic. Musicologists are respected
for the facts they know about music.... They are NOT admired for their
insight into music as aesthetic experience"

Lang missed the boat, I believe, in hearing the surface but missing the
meat and potatoes below.... Sometimes an initial impression and three
doctorate degrees can mislead an intelligent mind forever.

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