Wednesday, 13 May 2009

(Opera fragment, 1908-17)

(illustration by Harry Clarke for "The Fall of the House of Usher)

Without the highest expectations, I looked for this again on slsk today, and there it was. Alas, only 128 kbps but I was so slaphappy to finally get my ears on this. Thanks to that nice Mexican fellow with whom I happened to enjoy a small morning chat before setting off to my class on "philosophy and music," ha!

"The Fall of the House of Usher is among the finest short-stories that Edgar Allan Poe has written. Till today, it fascinates readers with its fantastic atmosphere of the dread which springs from the human psyche. The story is centered around Roderick Usher, the last descendant of an old nobility, who lives together with his sister in an old, gloomy and reclusive mansion. The activities taking place in this house possess symbolic meaning and touch on some of Poe's preferred subjects such as the margin between life and death, human delusion, isolation and detachment from the world.

Debussy took notice of the story fairly early on, in the version as translated by Charles Baudelaire. The material fascinated him at once. Today we don't know for certain when he started working on translating the story into music. The idea must have been in his head as early as 1890 as some of his letters indicate. Initially, he seems to have had a symphony in mind, however. The actual work on the opera probably started in 1908 and continued to solicit his attention until the final years of his life. Similar to "Pelléas et Mélisande" he seems to have struggled for every single note. The opera, however, never reached completion, impeded both by Debussy's exhausting compositional work and his suffering from cancer intensifying throughout the years. About half of the opera - the complete first act and two scenes of the second act - had been finished, and some of it had also been noted down on sketch sheets."
(translated from

1. Prélude - Scène I (9'39)
2. Scène II (13'06)


Anonymous said...
google video film of the same name
(1928) it might be of interest
scavenging angel

ido said...

I've been a huge Poe fan my whole life, but I never knew there was an opera based on his work. Although I'm not the biggest opera fan, I am now very curious to see how this translates from text to musical performance. Thank you for posting this!

p.s. On a totally unrelated note, would you mind if I reposted your rip of GLOOM's "Speed Noise Hardcore Rags" on my own blog? I'll re-up it on my own mediafire account,etc.

Jessica said...

scav: thanks for pointing this one out; i hadn't really paid attention to the various film adaptations of Poe's works, except for that Svankmajer short ;)

ido: well, opera, symphony and pompous music in general is not exactly my favourite thing either, but this was just too interesting to let pass, considering especially that it's Debussy.
And you're absolutely welcome to repost that Gloom record :)

maready said...


did you mention somewhere who was performing and/or what record this Debussy and that other Ravel were from? If so, I apologize, but I just wondered who the performers of the operasymphonypompous music are, because I liked the performances and, especially the debussy, because this is the only recording of the "Usher" piece I have ever heard (or seen) thanks

Emma Behnke said...

Gorgeous, thank you so much.