Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation examines Maurice Ravel’s first opera, L’Heure espagnole (1907–1911), as a turning point in the composer’s aesthetic approach, marking a moment at which he reacted strongly against Debussy’s influence and seems to have increasingly oriented his compositional perspective toward comedy, mechanism, and manipulations of musical time. In recent years, Ravel scholars have identified promising connections between Ravel’s aesthetics and Bergsonism, but the musical underpinnings of Bergson’s philosophy of time itself have remained vastly undertheorized. My project sets out to rectify this by locating both Ravel’s aesthetics and Bergson’s philosophy of time within the music-historical context of debussysme, and identifying a Bergsonian strain of music criticism in the writings of Louis Laloy and Vladimir Jankélévitch, both of whom studied under Bergson. Laloy and Jankélévitch’s writings, in turn, reveal important information about the practical application of Bergsonism to music and the intertwining of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande with Bergsonian philosophical ideals. The dissertation culminates in an analysis of L’Heure espagnole as a site of exchange between music and Bergson’s philosophy of time, analyzing it as a testing ground for the Bergsonian concept of duration, a theory of time that reflects our lived experience as it unfolds in the present. Ultimately, I theorize that Ravel’s unique use of rhythm and meter in L’Heure espagnole encourages a practice of real-time analysis through the act of hearing, which in turn allows the listener to provisionally enact durational time through a constant re-evaluation of the metric and rhythmic frame based on material that was just heard. My dissertation employs a twofold methodological approach to investigate the shift in Ravel’s aesthetic direction around the time he was composing L’Heure espagnole: an archival approach (Chapters 1–3) and a hermeneutic approach (Chapter 4). The first half of my study (Chapters 1 and 2) surveys Ravel’s personal correspondence with the Godebski family and the press reception of his works between roughly 1905 and 1910 as evidence for the creation of a new aesthetic posture that would distance him from Debussy and catalyze his novel use of time and meter as a distinctive aspect of his style. Chapter 3 presents archival research on Bergson and his interlocutors, linking his philosophy of time to contemporaneous research on music, sensation, and consciousness by Gustav Fechner, Théodule Ribot, and Paul and Pierre Janet. Here, I develop the grounds for a Bergsonian approach to Ravel’s music by exploring the practical implementation of Bergson’s theories of duration and intuition in music through Bergson’s disciples, Laloy and Jankélévitch. My study concludes with a hermeneutic analysis of L’Heure espagnole that uses Bergson’s theory of duration as an interpretive lens to make sense of the complex interaction between comedy, mechanism, and time in the opera.
Chung, Holly Elizabeth, "Hearing in Time: Bergsonian Concepts of Time in Maurice Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole" (2021). Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dissertations. 31.