French impressions: the transnational afterlives of Verlaine's 'La lune blanche' in song

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In this chapter I compare settings of Verlaine’s ‘La lune blanche’ [‘The White Moon’] by composers of different nationalities (Delius, Webern, Sorabji, Loomis, Nevin, Loeffler, Hennessy, Poldowski, McEwen, Szulc, Stravinsky) in order to show how different ideas of French song – and of art song itself – emerge through the multiple dialogues of its transnational crossings. Two opposing approaches become clear: on the one hand, songs which maintain a reverence towards the source text as a symbol of the cultural cachet which French mélodie has enjoyed since its 1880-1930 heyday; and on the other, songs which offer a curiously unplaceable musical material, staking a claim for music as an mode of articulation which functions independently from language and, indeed, from national identities which are always in danger of falling into repetition, cliché and pastiche. This latter mode, I suggest, comes closest to the real heart of mélodie as understood by its foremost French purveyors, Fauré and Debussy, and which composers like Stravinsky draw out of Verlaine’s text: a conception of song as an art form uniquely placed to offer a critique of fixed national paradigms and stable interpretative systems, by constantly calling into question, through their formal complexities, the very processes by which meaning itself is produced.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSong beyond the nation
Subtitle of host publicationtranslation, transnationalism, performance
EditorsPhilip Ross Bullock, Laura Turnbull
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOUP/British Academy
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780191953859
ISBN (Print)9780197267196
Publication statusPublished - 20 May 2021

Publication series

NameProceedings of the British Academy
ISSN (Print)0068-1202


  • Verlaine
  • Chanson
  • Mélodie
  • Symbolism
  • Poetry
  • Music
  • Versification
  • Translation
  • Dépaysement
  • Cosmopolitanism


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