“L’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses” Mélodie and Memory in the Année terrible

Kilpatrick, Emily “L’art d’évoquer les minutes heureuses” Mélodie and Memory in the Année terrible. Nineteenth-Century French Studies, 50 (3-4). ISSN 0146-7891 (In Press)


The legacy of the Année terrible permeated the creative practice of the Belle Époque, and the shaping of a collective cultural memory exercised artists across all disciplines. When composers and their peers reflected on the events of 1870–71, the creation and performance of art song (mélodie) often assumed a key narrative and symbolic function. This study investigates the ways by which composers and their colleagues drew on song, and song performance, to engage with post-1871 dialogues of memory, memorialisation, and artistic renewal. It surveys mélodies that were composed in direct response to political and artistic imperatives, and others whose creation was subsequently reimagined in the shaping of historical narratives. Through composers’ creative practice, and their subsequent accounting of it, the study examines how the mélodie was deployed both to express and contextualise traumatic experience, and to access discourses of cultural memory and musical identity.

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