Theses Doctoral

Symphonic Culture in Paris, 1880-1900: The Bande à Franck and Beyond

Seto, Mark

Parisian musical life underwent a tectonic shift in the late nineteenth century. Throughout the 1800s, and particularly during the Second Empire (1852-70), opera and other forms of theatrical entertainment had dominated the French musical scene. In the final decades of the century, however, a generation of French composers devoted considerable efforts to large-scale symphonic forms. A driving force in the advancement of orchestral music was the "Franck circle" or bande à  Franck--a group of more-or-less young composers mentored by an unassuming organ professor at the Paris Conservatoire. In their symphonic works, these musicians challenged the longstanding Austro-German dominance of serious instrumental genres and cultivated a distinctly French musical voice. This dissertation explores the burgeoning symphonic culture of Paris circa 1880-1900 by examining four representative compositions by prominent members of the Franck circle: Augusta Holmès's Les Argonautes (1880), Ernest Chausson's Viviane (1882-83, revised 1887), César Franck's Psyché (1886-87), and Vincent d'Indy's Istar (1896). Each of these pieces, the subject of an individual chapter, offers a study in the relationship between compositional practice and cultural identity. The critical success of Les Argonautes catapulted Holmès to national prominence and established her reputation as one of the most progressive composers in France. Chausson's extensive revisions to Viviane, his first major orchestral work, reveal his evolving attitudes about descriptive music and Wagner--the composer who cast the longest shadow in fin-de-siècle France. Although Franck based Psyché on a legend from Greek antiquity, his approach to musical signification allowed his disciples to interpret the piece variously as a Christian allegory or as absolute music. D'Indy's polemical stances on genre, artistic influence, and morality belie the ideological complexities and paradoxes in his Istar. In addition to illuminating these works through reception history, musical analysis, manuscript studies, and the composers' own writings, the dissertation will address three interrelated topics in each chapter. First, I explore how the bande à  Franck understood the concept of "serious" music, and how this conception shaped Third Republic attitudes about orchestral genres, absolute music, and program music. Second, I examine how French composers responded to the legacy of Wagner in non-theatrical genres. Finally, I discuss how these four musicians fashioned a cultural, national, and personal identity through--and sometimes in tension with--their orchestral works.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Frisch, Walter M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
June 6, 2012