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UCSB
The University of California,
Santa Barbara

CISM
Center for the
Interdisciplinary
Study of Music

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Gender Panel

Sunday, January 17, 10:00am
Music Room 1145
Dennis Russell, chair


"Engaging Women in Germaine Tailleferre's Six chansons françaises"

Kiri Heel, Musicology
Stanford University

In June 1929, Germaine Tailleferre (1892-1983) endured the unimaginable. After her unstable husband learned of her pregnancy, he decided to shoot her in the stomach to kill the fetus. Recounting the bizarre events in her 1970s memoir, Tailleferre describes hearing shots fired while hiding in the woods near their home in southern France. Though not injured, the stress resulted in miscarriage. She also never saw her husband again: he returned to New York, she filed for divorce, and he later committed suicide.

She immediately turned to music following these disastrous events, composing her generically titled Six chansons françaises over the next two months. Though Tailleferre herself has avoided linking the songs to her tumultuous personal life, there is no denying their autobiographical relevance: the diverse texts — some belonging to the Old French mal mariée tradition — grapple with the weighty issues of marital unhappiness and infidelity.

Though Tailleferre is best known within the largely male community of Les Six, her songs establish a strong female community to which she turned for support during this difficult time. My paper elucidates the woman-centered nature of the songs by detailing their texts and their six female dedicatees, and by acknowledging their autobiographical elements and their potential therapeutic benefits. In addition, musical and textual analyses highlight the incongruity between Tailleferre's characteristic musical subtlety and the strong personal nature and feminist messages of the texts. Finally, I examine the critical reception of the work, revealing reviewers' general disregard for its personal and political significance.


"A New Rhetoric of Helen of Troy: Saint-Saëns's Post-Wagnerian Reading of a Greek Myth"

Mia Tootill, Musicology
Pennsylvania State University

After centuries of literary works devoted to the myth of Helen of Troy, the nineteenth century saw a profusion of musical interpretations. While these musical works offered a different perspective on Helen of Troy, depicting what the literary works could not, composers and philosophers such as Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche argued for the necessity of Gesamtkunstwerk in order to tell tales such as this one, returning to the tools of rhetoric not used since Greek tragedies.

While Wagner did not add Helen's story to his large output, in 1904 Camille Saint-Saëns wrote an opera, Hélène, that explored Helen's attempted struggle against her love for Paris. This paper examines the idiosyncratic synthesis of music and drama used to convey Saint-Saëns's reading of Helen of Troy. Saint-Saëns believed that Helen was a victim of destiny; he saw her bleak future and the infamous downfall of Troy as unavoidable. After a long tradition of depictions of Helen as a femme fatal, her beauty a vice causing sin and destruction, Saint-Saëns finally gives Helen of Troy a voice to defend herself. While the music depicts the undercurrent of her hopeless destiny, Saint-Saëns's text shows her attempted struggle against her love for Paris. Amidst his composition of both the music and libretto, Saint-Saëns had his own struggle, against the rampant Wagnerism which he had at first embraced and subsequently attempted to move away from, the evidence of which is clear in the mix of French neo-classicism and Wagnerian style in this work. In order to assess why Saint-Saëns could not fully break away from Wagner, this paper examines the importance of Wagnerian tools in depicting this story. The great body of writings by Saint-Saëns additionally gives insight into the composer's musical and dramatic decisions, particularly those directly regarding Helen, opera, and mythology.


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