Watercolor 12 x 14
For Pelleas and Melisande by Composer Gabriel Faure
THE WEDDING KISS
For Pelleas and Melisande by Composer Gabriel Faure
Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist manifesto "Pelleas and Melisande" fascinated composers as varied as Schoenberg, Sibelius, Faure, and Debussy and coaxed brilliantly rare compositions out of four great composers.
Based upon literature, to aside for a moment, literary movements are, in certain ways, like theoretical physics. They both operate mostly under the radar, undergoing subtle changes, describing rarified events too arcane for the likes of you and me to grasp or care about. But then, every once in awhile, a charismatic personality with a catchy equation (E=mc2), or a thermonuclear device, demands our attention.
Similarly, though we might not know a Symbolist poet from a cymbal crash, subtle vibrations from such an underground, like that surprisingly influential butterfly's wings in Beijing, create waves large enough to reach our ears, by way of the opera house, the concert hall, or (shameless plug) the classical music stations of Minnesota Public Radio each Tuesday night this month.
In the 1890's, just such a ferment was taking place in ferment's home: France. While almost no one was looking, the literary avant-garde switched from one way of reminding us how very puny indeed is human will and volition, to another. The messages remained the same. Only the messengers changed.
Naturalism had been beating us down for decades with a bleakness tailor-made for a post-Darwinian world. Stephen Crane's story "The Open Boat" is a fit representative of ten thousand cheery variations on the same theme. Big ocean, little boat. You do the math. Nature isn't malevolent but, as aware of our presence as we are of mosquitoes in winter, it just won't do us any favors.
Now, though, in the work of some drugged out, dropout, proto-beat poets like Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stephan Mallarme (led spiritually by their early 19th century guru Charles Baudelaire), Naturalism itself was beaten down, supplanted by something called Symbolism.
No one really knew what Symbolism was, and that was how the Symbolists liked it. Providing the clueless with a road map really wouldn't have been Symbolist.
Symbolism was about mere suggestion, the indirect gesture, the dream-like vision. Like all things hip in all ages, you either got it or you didn't. And since dream-like visions tend to be exempt from adhering to rules of structure, linearity and sense, it was easy not to get it.
The upshot, still, was that we human beings contend, vainly, with forces too large for us even to perceive, much less overcome. But instead of cold Nature, Symbolism looked at human matrices, hierarchies, chance meeting, near misses, timing; and once the games began, documented all the emotional wreckage and deadly crimes of passion
In drama, a Belgian named Maurice Maeterlinck composed a symbolist manifesto for the stage. It premiered in Paris in May, 1893. In a misty ancient setting, a kingdom of shadows and memories called Allemonde, a fortyish prince named Golaud is out hunting the wild boar one day, as princes do, and gets lost. He stumbles across a frightened young woman by a spring. Melisande weeps, and recoils even from the touch of his hand. She, too, is a princess, though far from home and uncertain how she got there. Yet, in the wink of an eye, the two are married, before Melisande has met the man she's destined to love, Golaud's half-brother Pelleas. The cards are dealt with a few vague gestures (the plot-building materials: reverie and fog), and the love triangle guarantees a succession of jealousies, rhapsodies and, ultimately, tragedies.
Pelleas and Melisande fascinated composers. Maeterlinck and Symbolism were all the rage. Little wonder. Musical settings of literary texts usually involved the cutting of extraneous detail. Maeterlinck was kind enough to leave most everything out already. Symbolist tactics brought the phenomenal world, as described by words, and the visceral world, of which music was sovereign, closer than they'd ever been. Within a dozen years Gabriel Faure, Claude Debussy, Arnold Schoenberg and Jean Sibelius would each give music to Pelleas and Melisande.
Faure was the first. He wrote his incidental music for the first British production, at the request of Mrs. Patrick Campbell, in June of 1898, five years after the Paris premiere. He had six weeks to complete the work and recycled some existing material. The famous Sicilienne was originally a piece for cello and piano.
Some Wedding Kiss Trivia!
Did you know that the Russians are accredited with inventing THE wedding kiss?
Russian nobility loved to copy exotic French customs, oo la la …who in turn had copied things from the Romans well- known for heated amore.
The Wedding Kiss is in fact the “closer” of merged ancient sexual and bargaining symbols, now the universal custom of “a kiss at the end of a wedding ceremony!”
Generally it is a perfect photo opportunity however, most brides don't remember much about their wedding kiss.
Romans, as sophisticated kissers, took it to a fine art. Where they kissed? It depended on the relative importance of the kisser and kissed. Important visitors accepted and offered a kiss to the mouth. A less important person got their hand kissed, clothing or ring. The lowest ranking would kiss the host’s feet, or even the ground walked upon by the important person.
The origin of the word 'kiss' is uncertain but might come from the Old English cyssan. It is similar to the Saxon kussian and the Viking kyssa, although the latter were probably too busy to do much kissing! In all these languages, the word most likely evolved from an imitation of the sound of a kiss - an onomatopoeic word like 'splash', 'hiss', 'mumble' etc.
xxx -These x’s as kiss symbols?
Hundreds of years ago, when clergy and priests wrote letters, they would end the letter with their signature and or a seal. They would also add the sign of the Christian cross. The cross has many interpretations, but the essential meaning is 'love'. About 300 years ago, writers of love-letters began adopting this cross symbol, but rotated it by 45 degrees to give 'X'. This rotation was to mimic the rotation of the head when giving a kiss, and so the 'X' was the sign of a kiss.
The kissing of icons is as a sign of veneration is common in many religions. In Mecca, the Black Stone has been worn hollow by centuries of kissing as is the Blarney Stone in Ireland.
Today, in some churches, kissing forms a part of religious ritual. The 'Kiss Of Peace' is a ceremonial gesture, such as a kiss or handclasp, used as a sign of love and union in some Christian churches during celebration of the Eucharist.
Israelis fined for wedding kiss, Pushkar in Rajasthan. An Israeli couple married in India has found that you may not kiss the Bride - the pair were fined $22 for indecency for their wedding embrace.
In Christianity, we see dozens of biblical references to kissing (see Genesis 27:26,27 and 31:28,55, I Kings 19:18,20, Psalm 2:12, Proverbs 24:26, Solomon 1:2 and 8:1, Hosea 13:2, Luke 7:38,45).
The reference in II Samuel 20:9 was a pretty nasty kiss of death, but the most infamous kiss was from Judas in betraying Jesus (see Matthew 26:48,49, Mark 14:44,45 and Luke 22:47,48). St. Paul instructed Christians to "greet one another with a holy kiss" (see Romans 16:16, I Corinthians 16:20, II Corinthians 13:12, I Thessalonians 5:26 and I Peter 5:14).
For a list of GERMS related to the kiss see: http://www.seiyaku.com/customs/kiss.html