Athematic Cyclicism “à la Debussy”. Construction, function, and perception of some recurring intervals in the Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp
This paper intends to demonstrate how the tritone in the Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp becomes a tool of the memory, capable of revealing an underlying cyclical unity. The analysis consolidates Jean-Louis Leleu’s insights (Leleu 2017), reinterpreting the function of some recurring intervals in the construction of the Sonata. What emerges is a path of progressive revelation of a few supporting elements, in particular the α interval [6–0], which gradually shed their themes to reveal a distinctive identity. So far, the cyclical nature of the work has been evaluated only with regard to the resumption of the theme of the Pastorale in the epilogue. But the analysis of this paper highlights a much denser network of links, which tends to go beyond the thematic dimension, to favor a substantially athematic connection. Musicological studies tried to find a kinship with French research on cyclicity at the end of the XIXth century (DeVoto 2004; Wheeldon 2009). But Debussy eclipses every model, experimenting with various solutions. There is a transformation process, which leads the composer to rework some cyclical procedures that were historicized by tradition: specially the rewriting of the péroraison, which loses its melodic traceability while remaining the athematic climax of the entire work. Above all, there is a strong drive towards a form of subconscious cyclicism, which offers the listener continuous points of contact with that déjà entendu by working on connoted and perceptible cues.