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  • La Scène de musique: dans le roman du XVIIIe siècle par Martin Wåhlberg
  • Michael O’Dea
La Scène de musique: dans le roman du XVIIIe siècle. Par Martin Wåhlberg. (L’Europe des Lumières, 36.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2015. 453 pp.

After many works by philosophers and literary scholars on music in the French eighteenth century, this book turns the tables: a musicologist offers his reading of the eighteenth-century novel—and if the title seems to suggest a highly specialized corpus, part of the interest of the work lies in revealing the number and variety of novels with scenes involving music and music-making. Martin Wåhlberg offers insights into the theory, practice, and status of music, but he also leads the reader to re-open the whole question of the novel form in his fascinating chapters on the ‘roman mêlé de chansons’, as he calls it. Although he has some predecessors in studying this surprising subgenre (Henri Lafon, Manuel Couvreur), many seasoned readers may not be aware that a significant number of novels were published in Paris from 1765 onwards with scores at the end allowing the purchaser to read, sing, and play the romances (for example) that the heroine (for example) sang in the preceding narrative. In other cases, late in the century, the scores are bound and sold separately. Or again, the verses are given with the simple indication of a timbre, just as, in the vaudeville form, new words were constantly set to familiar airs at the Opéra-comique. The Opéra-comique is one key to understanding the form: when Philidor furnishes the music for Billardon de Sauvigny, Histoire amoureuse de Pierre le Long [End Page 604] (1765), one inevitably thinks of the new-style Opéra-comique, where a spoken text is interspersed with original music. As ever, the novel form is fluid and opportunistic, here espousing a mix that a priori might not seem promising outside the theatre. As Wåhlberg shows, the question of origins is complex. The troubadours and the pastoral tradition (Spanish and French) offer important models. Marie-Jeanne L’Héritier de Villandon publishes La Tour ténébreuse, et les jours lumineux as early as 1705, on Richard Cœur de Lion. Billardon de Sauvigny’s title echoes Bussy Rabutin, but his style, with much use of ‘iceluy’and ‘pour ce que’, leads perhaps to Aucassin et Nicolette, first translated in the Mercure de France in 1752. Galatée, by Florian (1783), closely follows the prose–verse alternation of the Spanish original by Cervantes. The defining characteristic of Wåhlberg’s corpus is that performance is possible, and, in the end, musical practice and sociability are at least as important here as historical origins. Before he comes to the ‘roman mêlé de chansons’, Wåhlberg has a good first section on all the forms of musical scene in the novel. A third section, on ‘Musique et pensée’, is sometimes less close to his title. He is perhaps an explorer and cartographer more than a maker of grand syntheses. Even so, his book is engaging, learned, and thought-provoking throughout: a significant contribution that all philosophers and literary scholars bold enough to write about music should read and learn from.

Michael O’Dea
Université Lyon 2


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pp. 604-605
Launched on MUSE
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