Society of Music Analysis Theory and Analysis Graduate Student Conference

  • David Curran (Participant)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


The Romantic Hero as Sentimental Poet: Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust

This paper offers a comparative analysis of two numbers from Berlioz’s ‘concert opera’, La damnation de Faust, looking particularly at the question of Faust’s relationship to nature. It crosses the borders between historical musicology and analysis by giving a close reading of Berlioz’s celebrated essay ‘De l’imitation musicale’ as a way into a discussion of the composer’s use of topics and other expressive gestures throughout Faust. Berlioz’s definitions of ‘physical/direct imitation’ and ‘emotional/indirect imitation’ are roughly mapped onto Friedrich Schiller’s definitions of ‘naive’ and ‘sentimental’ poetry in order to demonstrate how the composer gives expression to one of the fundamental themes of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s original Faust drama, that is, mankind’s striving for a return to the harmonious unity with nature that, for many artists and philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, characterized the age of antiquity.

Berlioz’s use of imitation will be elucidated with recourse to the musical semiotic work of Robert Hatten, Kofi Agawu, Eero Tarasti, Byron Almén, and Raymond Monelle, among others. With the exception of Julian Rushton’s contributions in his The Musical Language of Berlioz (1983) and The Music of Berlioz (2001), music-analytical discussion of Faust has been relatively thin on the ground. My paper seeks to offer a fresh analysis of the work, that builds on Rushton’s insights and complements the analyses of the work’s libretto by Daniel Albright, in Berlioz’s Semi-Operas (2001), and Katherine Reeve, in her brilliant article, ‘The Damnation of Faust, or the perils of heroism in music’ (1992).
Period3 Apr 2016
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map