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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fragmentation and eros in Debussy's Chanson de Bilitis and Six Épigraphes antiques Iwaasa, Rachel


Debussy based one of his last piano works, the Six Epigraphes antiques of 1914, on some unpublished incidental music he had composed in 1901 for Pierre Louys's Chansons de Bilitis. The original Bilitis music has typically been disparaged as a rough draft, left in fragments because Debussy didn't have enough time to finish it. The longer, more unified piano pieces are conventionally regarded as the polished, completed form of the earlier material. This dissertation argues that fragmentation is a central symbol in Louys's Chansons de Bilitis, and that rough edges, broken forms and extreme brevity of Debussy's musique de scene constitute a sensitive response to the poetic text. The two works are related to historical fragmentary procedures in both literature and music. The loss of the celesta part for the incidental music is proposed as an aesthetically significant, and perhaps intentional, reflection of the poetry's themes of historical loss and decay. It is suggested that the work should therefore be performed without reconstructing the missing celesta part, and to this end, a new transcription of the work for flute and piano is included as an appendix, compiled from the surviving manuscript sources. In this light, the treatment of musical themes and poetic references in the Six Epigraphes antiques is analyzed as a later repudiation of Louys's aesthetic and moral philosophies. The friendship between these two artists and their rupture in 1904 are examined, with particular emphasis on their other attempts at collaboration.

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