The Tragic Seascape: 'Sapho' and its Twelve-note Chord

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This is a primarily musical study and comparison of three extended operatic sequences produced during the French Revolution in which the life-threatening power of storms at sea were worked into the narrative and put on stage: Kreutzer's 'Paul et Virginie' (1791), Méhul's 'Mélidore et Phrosine' (1794) and J. P. E. Martini's 'Sapho' (1794). Orchestral and harmonic power were on particular display, especially in the twelve-note chord written by Martini to express the moment of Sapho's suicide by jumpng from the rock of Leucade. It is mirrored by a ten-note chord in the overture. Méhul's unpublished reaction to this twelve-note chord is reproduced (MS in private possession at the time of writing).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-72
Number of pages27
JournalJahrbuch für Opernforschung
Publication statusPublished - 1985


  • France, opera, staging, music, analysis, harmony

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