Hyperion Records

Pelléas and Mélisande Suite
first performed at the New Brighton Tower on 19 August 1900, with the composer conducting

'Wallace: Creation Symphony & other orchestral works' (CDH55465)
Wallace: Creation Symphony & other orchestral works
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55465  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
'Hyperion monthly sampler – September 2014' (HYP201409)
Hyperion monthly sampler – September 2014
HYP201409  Download-only monthly sampler  
Movement 3: The Love of Pelléas for Mélisande
Track 2 on CDH55465 [5'31] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Spinning Song
Track 3 on CDH55465 [3'58] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Track 7 on HYP201409 [3'58] Download-only monthly sampler
Movement 5: The Death of Mélisande
Track 4 on CDH55465 [6'17] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Pelléas and Mélisande Suite
Maeterlinck published his symbolist drama Pelléas et Mélisande in 1892. Wallace’s Suite was first performed at the New Brighton Tower with the composer conducting on 19 August 1900. It therefore predates Debussy’s incomparable opera of the same name (completed and first produced in 1902) and Sibelius’s Suite (1905). Only three of the five movements are included here—but the selection (the last three movements) is one Wallace himself proposed. The movements omitted are ‘The Lost Mélisande’ and ‘The King’s March’.

The story is simple enough. Pelléas falls in love with his older brother’s young wife, Mélisande. The brother, Golaud, heir to King Arkel’s throne, becomes aware of this and kills him; and Mélisande, having presented her husband with a child, dies of grief. But this simplicity cloaks a profound symbolism in which the nature of innocence is questioned and in which its abuse inevitably leads to tragedy.

‘The Love of Pelléas for Mélisande’: innocent or no, this is a passionate love, given rich expression on bass clarinet followed by the strings in rising sequences of desire. The hushed delicacy of the medieval setting is also present, but the conclusion of the movement matches the reality in the play, in which Pelléas and Mélisande have been prepared to give themselves wholly to each other, knowing that her husband is watching them.

‘Spinning Song’: this is a little character-piece, showing a delicate and lighter side to Wallace’s character as a composer, especially when compared to the dark undercurrents of Sibelius’s interpretation of the same scene. Wallace chooses to realize the unaffected innocence of Mélisande in simplistic form and melody. She is scarcely beyond childhood, and the music reflects her dangerous naivety which has so captivated the two brothers. In such a world of natural melodic charm it seems that cruelty would be an utter impossibility.

‘The Death of Mélisande’: coming after the innocence of the ‘Spinning Song’, the extravagance of the grief of this movement is all the more telling. This is a vast grief, not only because it occurs in the palace of a king and is for the wife of a king’s son who has died in the wake of her lover, but also because this grief is not innocent. Golaud, having murdered his own brother, is left racked with doubt, not knowing whether Pelléas and Mélisande were, after all, merely children, not able to help what they did.

The contrast with the later, muted treatment of this by Debussy and Sibelius is startling. Dramatic funeral drums and gong punctuate the passionate descending phrase derived from a theme originally associated with Pelléas’s declaration of love. The central section recalls that love, but the final lento e dolente, heralded by funereal trumpets and the return of the drums, fragments into hushed misery.

from notes by John Purser © 1997

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