Pelleas and Melisande, op. 5

Arnold Schoenberg1903-02-28

Arnold Schönberg Center

Arnold Schönberg Center
Vienna, Austria

“I composed the symphonic poem ‘Pelleas and Melisande’ in 1902. It is, in every respect, inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s wonderful drama. I tried, with the exception of just a few omissions and minor changes in the order of the scenes, to reflect every single detail. I did perhaps, as it often happens in music, give the love scenes a bit more space.“ (Arnold Schönberg, Program notes for a radio broadcast of “Pelleas and Melisande,” 1949). Schönberg’s affinity for programmatic music coincides with the zenith of a type of work, which had been defined in all its significant aspects by Richard Strauss in the late nineteenth century. The performances of the symphonic poems Ein Heldenleben, Also sprach Zarathustra, Tod und Verklärung and Don Juan (conducted by Gustav Mahler, Hans Richter and Strauss himself) had, since 1892, been objects of public interest and controversial discussion in Viennese concert life. Maeterlinck’s five-act Pelleas drama follows a chain of situations, which line up in associative fashion artificial encounters, as heavily symbolic depictions of mood and space. Schönberg concentrates his interpretation – which takes the form of a one-movement symphonic poem with an inner, latent multi-movement structure – on the characters Golo, Melisande and Pelleas, and their fateful relationship in an indefinite, placeless and timeless world, in which physical contact is tacitly implied and not concrete. The post-romantic musical gestures of the grandly dimensioned orchestra are, as Alban Berg ascertains in an analysis, never “purely descriptive,” but are oriented on the aesthetic concept of seeing the subject not as the content, but as a prerequisite for the music.


  • Title: Pelleas and Melisande, op. 5
  • Creator: Arnold Schönberg
  • Date Created: 1903-02-28
  • Location Created: Berlin, Deutschland
  • Physical Dimensions: w26 x h33.6 cm
  • Provenance: Arnold Schoenberg, Los Angeles; Gertrud Schoenberg, Los Angeles; Nuria Schoenberg Nono, Venezia, Lawrence and Ronald Schoenberg, Los Angeles; Arnold Schoenberg Institute, Los Angeles; Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna
  • Type: Music manuscript
  • Rights: Belmont Music Publishers, Los Angeles
  • External Link: https://www.schoenberg.at
  • Medium: Ink on paper

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