Yesterday, somebody Googled Pelleas et Melisande Pronunciation and landed on I Care if You Listen. I felt so bad that the audio file was not yet available that I immediately prepared this post, the second exception to the French Composers’s Names series…
The MP3 below features the only pronunciation of the title of Debussy’s opera I’ve ever heard—and always used—although after a brief search on the interwebs, it seems that people sometimes pronounce Melisande with a Z sound instead of an S.
Funny anecdote about Debussy and Pelleas, recalled by Jean Cocteau in 1921 and quoted in Robert Orledge’s Satie the Composer:
One evening Debussy and Satie found themselves seated at the same table. They found each other pleasant. Satie asked Debussy what he was preparing. Debussy, like everyone, was composing a Wagnerie, with Catulle Mendes. Satie made a grimace. ‘Believe me’, he murmured, ‘we have enough of Wagner. Quite beautiful; but not of our stock. We should … (Here I ask the greatest attention. I have cited a phrase of Satie which was told to me by Debussy, and which decided the aesthetic of Pelleas) … We should see to it’, he said, ‘that the orchestra does not grimace when characters enter on the scene. Look here: do the trees of the scenery grimace? We should make a musical scenery, create a musical climate where the personages move and speak – not in couplets, not in leit-motifs: but by the use of a certain atmosphere of Puvis de Chavannes.’
Think of the time [of] which I am speaking. Puvis de Chavannes was one of the audacious mocked by the Right.
‘And you Satie’, asked Debussy. ‘What are you preparing?’
‘I’, said Satie, ‘I am thinking of the Princesse Maleine; but I do not know how to obtain the authorization of Maeterlinck.’
Some days afterwards, Debussy, having obtained the authorization of Maeterlinck, commenced Pelleas et Melisande.
Oh, Erik. You were as badass as your final K.