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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lully's Psyché (1671) and Locke's Psyche (1675) : contrasting national approaches to musical tragedy in the seventeenth century Wiese, Helen Lloy


The English semi-opera, Psyche (1675), written by Thomas Shadwell, with music by Matthew Locke, was thought at the time of its performance to be a mere copy of Psyche (1671), a French tragedie-ballet by Moliere, Pierre Corneille, and Philippe Quinault, with music by Jean- Baptiste Lully. This view, accompanied by a certain attitude that the French version was far superior to the English, continued well into the twentieth century. This view is misleading; although the English play was adapted from the French, both were representative of two well-developed native theatrical traditions. Therefore, though there are certain parallels, both in plot and in the subject matter of some musical numbers, the differences in structure, both of the drama and of the music, are more significant. This thesis is a comparative study of the two plays, analyzing both their dramatic and musical structures, and examining them both from the context of the two theatrical traditions. It is concluded that the literary approach to tragedy of French theater resulted in the separation of drama and music, the latter relegated to the prologue, or to end-of-act diversions called intercedes. This allowed Lully to have great control over his music, and in Psyche (1671), he was concerned with the form of each intermede as a whole instead of striving for a variety of forms and ensembles within individual songs. Most of his songs and dances are solo airs in binary form; he makes little use of chorus and ensembles. On the contrary, the music in Psyche (1675) on many occasions was integrated with the plot, and was scattered randomly throughout the play. This prevented Locke from having artistic control over his compositions; Shadwell, the lyricist, determined where the music would occur, the ensembles to be used, and the moods of songs. Shadwell and Locke were concerned with the variety in each individual piece, rather than with unifying the overall form of musical scenes, and the overwhelming majority of songs have a combination of solo voice, ensembles, and chorus. Therefore, Psyche is not an unoriginal copy, but is a reinterpretation of the myth using the aesthetic of the Restoration tragic theater.

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