Symbols in Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande

Michael Ewans


This paper argues that when interpreting Pelléas et Mélisande we should not speak of static symbols which are potentially translatable into verbal language, but of symbolic encounters which unfold through time and whose meaning is almost incapable of expression in words – which is why Debussy's music is so effective in illuminating Maeterlinck's enigmatic play. The four main scenes of interaction between characters and symbolic events or processes are analyzed to shed light on the use of symbolism by the playwright and composer in Pelléas et Mélisande. The Conclusion argues against the common view that this opera portrays victims of destiny.


Debussy; Maeterlinck; Pelléas et Mélisande

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ISSN: 1836-8336