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Fin-de-siècle Lyrical Drama and the European Modernist Sensibility on the Eve of World War One

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The paper analyses the relationship of lyrical drama, which emerged as the dominant genre of European Modernism, and opera, representing a paradigm shift in European thought on the eve of World War One. The musical metaphor of love-death, originating in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, was adopted widely and transposed into verbal art by the dramatists and prose-writers of Modernism in Eastern and Western Europe. This metaphor or leit-motif is read in the context of the theory of the Freudian death-drive and the emergence of a modern analytic of finitude, which announces a new European cultural paradigm, grounded in identity and difference. A new ‘modern’ sensibility is formed out of these metaphysical elements, which come to expression in the Modernist genre of lyrical drama, in which a synaesthetic relationship is forged between music and the verbal text. A musical motif (love-death) is generalised into desire in the verbal text which it structures through intonation, gesture and the representation of unconscious drives on stage.

Affiliations: 1: Monash University,


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