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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 10 (2004) No. 1

Rivalry and Collaboration: The Role of Mérope in Act I, Scene 4 of Quinault and Lully’s Persée**

Buford Norman*


Application of Forestier’s génétique théâtrale to Quinault’s libretto for Lully’s Persée (1682) demonstrates the importance of Mérope, a character invented by Quinault. In Act I, scene 4—analyzed here with attention to verse forms, phonemes, syntax, frequency of character alternation, recurring lines, and sectional form—Mérope’s two brief interruptions of an argument give it much of its essential shape. Large-scale musical form complements poetic structure and meaning. Though she has a surprisingly large role and is essential to the structure of the libretto, Mérope is nonetheless not a central character and must disappear before the end of the opera.

1. Introduction

2. Persée in Relation to Quinault’s Other Operas

3. The Extent of the Role of Mérope

4. Mérope as a Means to an End

5. Quinault’s Act I, Scene 4

6. Lully’s Act I, Scene 4 in Relation to Quinault’s Poetry

7. Conclusion


Musical Examples

Audio Examples



1. Introduction

1.1 The collaboration between Philippe Quinault and Jean-Baptiste Lully was one of the most successful in the history of opera, yet we have only anecdotal evidence of how they worked.1 We do have the results of their work, however, and one way of gaining insight into their creative process is to consider what they did with what was available to them. For example, in writing the libretto for Persée, what did Quinault do to adapt the legend of Perseus and Andromeda into a work that could stand alone as a tragédie? What did he then do to create well-crafted scenes that could easily be set to music? In composing the score, what did Lully do to create a musical structure that was compatible with the poetic structure that Quinault had given his text?2

1.2 More particularly, does the shape of the final product help us to understand why Quinault created the character of Mérope and gave her such an extensive role, when he already had three principal characters as well as Cassiope, Céphée, and a host of additional mortal and immortal secondary characters? How did he work her into Ovid’s account of the relationship among Persée, Andromède, and Phinée, the three principal characters? What sort of musical structure did Lully give to the scenes in which Mérope interacted with the principals?

1.3 In an attempt to answer some of these questions, I would like to propose a reading of Act I, scene 4 of Persée from the point of view of literary form, and then consider how Lully responded to some key aspects of this form. This is the first scene in which Mérope is present with any of the principal characters, and it is easily the longest scene in the libretto (in terms of the number of lines). If Quinault introduced an invented character into an already long scene between two of the principal characters, it would seem that he had important reasons for doing so, that he would introduce this character carefully, and that such a scene would repay careful consideration of its literary and musical structure. Before looking more closely at this scene, however, it will help to consider the role of Mérope in the overall structure of the libretto, and to consider the libretto in the context of those that preceded and followed it (see the plot summary and libretto with English translation).

2. Persée in Relation to Quinault’s Other Operas

2.1 Persée is the seventh of the eleven librettos for tragédies that Quinault wrote for Lully from 1673 to 1686.3 Quinault probably wrote most of it in the second half of 1681, although the premiere did not take place until 17 or 18 April 1682. Seen in the context of all eleven librettos, it is a pivotal work, at the same time looking back to earlier works such as Thésée (1675) and Atys (1676) and looking forward to Phaéton (1683). All of these works involve rivalries among the members of two couples. Persée is similar to Phaéton in the importance it gives to a variety of rivalries, but different from it in that the rivalries in the latter are more political than amorous. As for Thésée and Atys, Persée features the same combination of relationships that one finds in the two earlier works: males A and B love female A, females A and B love male A.4

    Thésée Atys Persée
  Male A: Thésée Atys Persée
  Male B: Égée Célénus Phinée
  Female A: Églé Sangaride Andromède
  Female B: Médée Cybèle Mérope

Looking back still further, one sees that Persée is also similar to Alceste (1674) in that it features a woman loved by several men, one of whom (Persée, Alcide) is willing to undertake a seemingly impossible mission to save her, and another of whom (Phinée, Lycomède) resorts to violence in an effort to win her; and to Cadmus et Hermione (1673) in that the hero’s great victories, which could be seen as marking the end of the plot, come at the end of Act IV and are followed by yet another conflict.

2.2 These plot elements are of course found in many of the eight tragédies with mythological subjects, but not in Isis (1677) or Proserpine (1680), the two that come at the midpoint of Quinault’s collaboration with Lully and that immediately precede Persée. This is not the place to go into possible reasons for these differences, but it is important to note that Persée is the first libretto after Isis and Quinault’s two years of disgrace (1678–9) to go back to the earlier type of plot, featuring a traditional hero who is trying to win the hand of the princess in spite of his rivals. It is this return, and at the same time the suggestion of the political turn that Quinault’s treatment of rivalry will take in Phaéton, that makes the relationships among the characters so interesting in Persée, the only Quinault libretto in which four mortal characters are involved in a love relationship and all play truly important roles, and the first in which the hero’s rival is also a candidate for the throne that comes with the hand of the princess.

3. The Extent of the Role of Mérope

3.1 The two-couple structure in Persée presents Quinault with a variety of possibilities for interaction among the four main characters. Among the first possibilities that come to mind are monologues for Persée and Andromède, tender scenes between the two lovers, confrontations between Persée and Phinée, and scenes of condolence or spite with Phinée and Mérope. There are indeed two instances of this last combination, but only one of the other three combined, unless one counts the battle in V, 5 and V, 7, during which Persée and Phinée do not address each other directly. There is only one love scene, less tender than most of those by Quinault, and neither Persée nor Andromède has a monologue, although Andromède does have an important lament in IV, 5.

3.2 It is not, however, that there are no monologues (in the strict sense of a character alone on stage), for Mérope has three (I, 3; II, 4; and V, 1), in addition to a scene with Andromède and another with Andromède and Persée. She figures in more scenes (sixteen) than any other character and in a large number of scenes that include no more than three characters. It is remarkable that Quinault would not only invent a character but give her such a large role.5

4. Mérope as a Means to an End

4.1 One way of trying to understand this situation is to adapt the method developed by Georges Forestier, both in general and as he applies it to Pierre Corneille’s Andromède (1649–50). As part of an effort to go from form to meaning, Forestier begins with the denouement with which Corneille decided to end a play and works back to the beginning, interpreting each scene in light of how it prepares what follows.6 In the particular case of Andromède, he addresses the criticism that the play is flawed because the action could end with the victory of Persée over the monster at the end of Act IV. The same criticism has been made of Persée,7 and to respond to it one can argue that the basic subject of the libretto is the marriage of Persée and Andromède. Forestier shows that Corneille structured his play to lead up to this marriage, and that he made this structure clear by having Persée refer to the oracle that forbids Andromède to marry a mortal.8 Although Quinault does not mention this oracle, it is clear that Persée’s victories over Méduse (Act III) and the monster (Act IV) are steps toward marrying Andromède (Act V) and not ends in themselves. After an opening scene that explains the anger of the gods, the second scene of the opera begins with Cassiope discussing the intended husbands for Andromède and Mérope. Persée has offered to cut off the head of Méduse before he knows Andromède loves him, but when he learns of her love, he says “L’amour m’appelle” (“Love calls me”; II, 6, line 369).9 Similarly, his victory over the monster in Act IV is attributed to his love: “Quand l’Amour anime un grand cœur / Il ne trouve rien d’impossible” (“When love inspires a noble heart, nothing is impossible”; IV, 7, lines 736–7).

4.2 Given, then, that Quinault wanted to conclude his libretto with the marriage of Persée and Andromède, how did he use the character of Mérope to contribute to this end? Let us start at the end. When we learn of her accidental death in V, 6, we feel considerable pity for this woman who had overcome her desire to stop the marriage of Persée and Andromède (II, 1-2), her desire to die when she realized that was impossible (V, 1), then her desire to have vengeance (V, 2). Her final act is to warn Persée and his followers of the impending attack by Phinée and his rebels, giving Persée time to arm, and thus saving his life (V, 4).

4.3 Her last lines before she rushes in to warn Persée include the phrase “douce vengeance” (“sweet vengeance”; V, 2, line 833). She has been led to this by Phinée, who found her in tears and desiring death at the end of her monologue in the first scene of Act V. She does not speak of vengeance on her own, however, but only following the lead of Phinée. Since she does not suggest violence, or even discuss it with him, but only listens to his long speech (lines 810–32), one suspects here, as scene 4 will reveal, that she is not completely set on vengeance.

4.4 She is in a similar situation at the beginning of Act IV: her first reaction to the news of Persée’s victory over Méduse—and thus of the increased probability of his marriage to Andromède—is one of sadness, and she wants to be alone before Phinée, again after a fairly long speech (IV, 2, lines 584–600), induces her to sing of her jealousy in a duet.

4.5 Before this, and before Persée’s two victories that ensure his marriage to Andromède, Mérope tries to stop the marriage. At the beginning of Act II she and Phinée try to convince Cassiope to honor her promise to marry Phinée to her daughter Andromède. Mérope is present in the next scene, in which Phinée tries similar arguments with his brother the king Céphée, and we can assume that she wants Phinée to prevail—until the announcement that Persée has offered to fight Méduse leads her to consider first his probable death, then the possibility that he could win and be with Andromède, then the fact that she still loves him even though he does not love her in return (II, 4). This monologue (her second of three) is a pivotal moment in her character: she has no hope, since Persée will either die or marry Andromède, and all she can do is suffer in silence or seek vengeance. It is this choice that she will consider in the opening scenes of Acts IV and V, before yielding to more positive emotions (the love that she is unable to deny at the end of II, 4) and acting in favor of Persée.

4.6 Mérope struggles with similar emotions in the first act. Unable to be spiteful (I, 2, lines 74–5) or to gain control over her heart (I, 3, lines 80–1, in her first monologue), she can only hope that time will heal her wounds or that a marriage between Phinée and Andromède will make Persée “available” to her. It is in this frame of mind that she finds herself at the beginning of scene 4 of Act I, when Andromède and Phinée enter in the midst of a quarrel.

5. Quinault’s Act I, Scene 4

5.1 Until this scene, the spectator unfamiliar with the legend of Perseus and Andromeda would think that Mérope was the most important character in the opera. She appears in all of the first three scenes and has more lines than Cassiope or Céphée, a queen who has brought catastrophe to her country and a king who can do nothing about it. We learn, however, that Mérope’s fate depends on the choices of others, and though she has an impressive monologue, she is reduced to her “dernière espérance” (“last hope”; I, 3, line 97). She takes a minor role in scene 4, with only 11 lines out of 77, plus six in a trio (see the Appendix). Her goal here is to make Andromède and Phinée truly happy lovers (line 109), thus freeing Persée for herself, but her efforts are in vain. Furthermore, anyone but the hypothetical spectator who does not know the story—an unlikely individual in a seventeenth-century audience—knows that her efforts will be in vain. In short, Quinault has invented a character who, on the surface, is a major player in the drama, but who retreats to the background when she is present with one of the other couples. How does he use her to structure this scene, and what can this structure tell us about Quinault’s skill at creating well-crafted scenes that work well as a text to be read but that at the same time can easily be set to music?

5.2 In the following analysis, which will concentrate mainly on the portions of the scene involving Mérope, the transcription of each segment is annotated (e.g., “3-3”) to indicate the number of syllables in each subdivision of the line as normally declaimed. It will be seen that short lines normally have two subdivisions, each marked by an accent at the end. (In conformity with standard practice, unaccented syllables are not counted when they fall at the end of a line. Thus, “de craindre,” line 99, is a two-syllable group.) In the case of alexandrines (twelve-syllable lines), similar breakdowns are given for each six-syllable hemistich. It should be noted that the division of a line into subdivisions might split a word (as at “rompre,” line 107); the emphasis is on what the ear hears rather than what the eye sees.

5.3 As mentioned above, the scene begins (line 98) with Phinée and Andromède entering in the midst of a quarrel. The most obvious way in which Mérope is used to structure the scene is by having her interrupt the quarreling lovers. Quinault prepares Mérope’s interruption by having Andromède and Phinée return in lines 102–3 to the lines with which they began the scene (98–9);10 they are clearly at an impasse, having done almost nothing but vary slightly the words sung by the other:

  Andr. & Phin.:   Croyez-moi, croyez-moi. 6 (3-3) 98
  Andromède:   {Cessez de craindre. 4 (2-2) 99
  Phinée:   {Cessez de feindre.
  Andromède:   Je veux vous aimer, je le dois. 8 (5-3) 100
  Phinée:   Vous ne m’aimez pas, je le vois. 8 (5-3) 101
  Andromède:   {Cessez de craindre. 4 (2-2) 102
  Phinée:   {Cessez de feindre.
  Andr. & Phin.:   Croyez-moi, croyez-moi. 6 (3-3) 103
  Mérope:   Vous êtes tous deux aimables, 7 (5-2) 104
    Et vous vous aimez tous deux; 7 (5-2) 105
    Quels différends sont capables 7 (4-3) 106
    De rompre de si beaux nœuds? 7 (2-5) 107
    Que ne souffriront point les amants misérables, 12 (6/3-3) 108
    Si l’Amour a des maux pour les amants heureux? 12 (3-3/4-2) 109

[Andromède and Phinée: Believe me, believe me. Andromède: Stop fearing. Phinée: Stop pretending. Andromède: I want to love you, I should. Phinée: You do not love me, I see that. Andromède: Stop fearing. Phinée: Stop pretending. Andromède and Phinée: Believe me, believe me. Mérope: You are both attractive, and you love each other. What disagreements are capable of breaking such a fine bond? How unhappy lovers must suffer if Love brings pain to happy lovers!]

5.4 To make it clear that this is an interruption of an impasse and not a continuation of the argument, Quinault gave Mérope—and Lully—lines that are completely different from those of Andromède and Phinée. The first difference one hears is in the sounds.11 After the harsh /k/ and /wa/ (/wε/ in seventeenth-century French) of “Croyez-moi, croyez-moi”—we are not far from the “Quoi, quoi” in I, 4 of Rameau’s Platée!—the /v/, /u/, /z/, and /ε/ of “Vous êtes tous deux” are much softer and more pleasing to the ear. After all, Mérope is trying to calm the quarreling lovers. Next, the ear notices the different rhythms. The first six lines contain a series of paired rhythms, first within individual lines, then across adjacent lines. These start with the 3-3 rhythm of “Croyez-moi, croyez-moi” and the 2-2 rhythm of “Cessez de craindre.” Each of the parallel lines “Je veux vous aimer, je le dois / Vous ne m’aimez pas, je le vois” has a longer phrase followed by a shorter one, but the ear quickly recognizes that both lines fall into a 5-3 pattern.

5.5 Mérope begins with two lines that are not only the first in the scene with an uneven number of syllables but also the first that do not repeat short rhythmic groups. Both have an overall pattern of 5-2, but they do not begin with the same rhythmic pattern: line 104 has a slight pause after the second syllable, but line 105 does not. This lack of a pattern becomes much more obvious in her next two lines which, although of the same length, scan 4-3 and 2-5 rather than 5-2. By this time the ear can also have noticed that the rhyming syllables are different from those of the first six lines and that they seem to be establishing a regular pattern (abab). This pattern indeed continues in the next two lines, but the line lengths and rhythms change as we hear the first two alexandrines of the scene. Each has a different rhythm, despite the obvious parallel in content (although a negative one) between the hemistiches “les amants misérables” and “pour les amans heureux” (lines 108–9).

5.6 Mérope is clearly trying to establish the rhythmic structure of dialogue, more varied than the rhythmic structure of argument with its shorter, jabbing rhythmic units,12 but Andromède and Phinée are not quite ready; indeed, they do not speak directly to each other but to the intermediary Mérope for the next nine lines:

  Andromède:   Sans raison son chagrin éclate.   8 (3-5)   110
  Phinée:   Perdrai-je sans chagrin mon espoir le plus doux?   12 (2-4/3-3)   111
    Condamnez une ingrate.   6 (3-3)   112
  Andromède:   Condamnez un amant jaloux.   8 (3-5)   113
  Phinée:   Persée a su lui plaire, et d’une vaine excuse   12 (2-4/4-2)   114
    Elle veut éblouir mon amour outragé.   12 (3-3/3-3)   115
    Elle m’aimait, non, je m’abuse,   8 (4-1-3)   116
    Non, puisqu’elle a si tôt changé,   8 (1-7)   117
    Jamais son cœur pour moi ne fut bien engagé.   12 (2-4/3-3)   118

[Andromède: For no reason his vexation bursts forth. Phinée: Shall I lose my sweetest hope without vexation? Condemn a heartless woman. Andromède: Condemn a jealous lover. Phinée: Persée has known how to please her, and with an empty excuse she wants to overpower my outraged love. She used to love me. No, I delude myself. No, since she has changed so soon, her heart must never have been mine.]

Phinée does break away from the brief stabs and accusations of the first six lines with an alexandrine (line 111), but then he falls back into the jabbing 3-3 rhythm of lines 98 and 103 with “Condamnez une ingrate” (line 112). Andromède takes him a step farther in the next line by beginning her sentence in the same way he had but then ending with a five-syllable grouping (“Condamnez un amant jaloux”), as she had in her first line in this section (line 110). The sounds are again much harsher than Mérope’s, especially the /k/, /a/ , and // of “chagrin,” “éclate” and “condamnez.” Phinée finally breaks away from these sounds and these rhythmic patterns with his next five lines (114–8), though he still does not address Andromède directly.

5.7 Much later, after a long dialogue for Andromède and Phinée in which Mérope does not participate, the lines immediately preceding Mérope’s interruption (100–3) will return (155–8), heralding a second such interruption. In retrospect, once we have read or listened all the way to the end of the scene, we realize that this return of lines from the beginning, with their sounds and rhythms so characteristic of verbal sparring, marks the end of a long, central section. Reading the scene for content, one might expect this central section to begin with line 119, when Andromède and Phinée begin to speak directly to each other (see the Appendix). From the point of view of form, however—and Forestier’s “critique génétique” is an effort to go from form to meaning—the central section begins with line 114 (shown above), after the parallel lines 112–3, with the break from the sounds and rhythms of the opening section. From this point forward the central dialogue is organized in relatively long speeches instead of rapid exchanges, each at least four lines, and the alexandrine is the dominant line length. Furthermore, Phinée’s lines 114–8 are not addressed directly to Mérope; they return to the more general third person after the second person (imperative) of the two preceding lines.

5.8 Quinault prepares the transition to the return of the opening section well, beginning with line 148, where Andromède reacts to Phineé’s threat to do Persée bodily harm:

  Andromède:   Juste Ciel!      
  Phinée:                   Vous tremblez! Persée a su vous plaire   12 (3-3/2-4)   148
    Si son péril peut vous troubler.   8 (4-4)   149
  Andromède:   Le Ciel n’est que trop en colère,   8 (2-6)   150
    Et vous bravez un Dieu qui peut vous accabler;   12 (4-2/2-4)   151
    C’est pour vous que je dois trembler.   8 (3-5)   152
  Phinée:   Ne vous servez point d’artifice.   8 (5-3)   153
  Andromède:   Ne me faites point d’injustice.   8 (5-3)   154
    Je veux vous aimer, je le dois.   8 (5-3)   155
  Phinée:   Vous ne m’aimez pas, je le vois.   8 (5-3)   156
  Andromède:   { Cessez de craindre.   4 (2-2)   157
  Phinée:   { Cessez de feindre      
  Andr. & Ph.:   Croyez-moi, croyez-moi.   6 (3-3)   158

[Andromède: Heavens above! Phinée: You tremble! Persée has certainly known how to please you if you are troubled by his peril. Andromède: The Heavens are only too angry, and you defy a god who can crush you. It is for you that I tremble. Phinée: Do not be deceitful. Andromède: Do not do me injustice. I want to love you, I should. Phinée: You do not love me, I see that. Andromède: Stop fearing. Phinée: Stop pretending. Andromède and Phinée: Believe me, believe me.]

He gives Andromède and Phinée shorter speeches beginning with line 148 and then shorter lines beginning with line 149, before returning in lines 153–4 to the familiar 5-3 pattern of lines 100–1—lines that will themselves recur in lines 155–6. Lines 153–4 also mark a return to rhyming pairs of lines spoken by different characters, a feature last heard at “je le dois” and “je le vois” in lines 100–1 (not to mention the simultaneous rhyme, “craindre” and “feindre,” in line 102).

5.9 After lines from the opening of the scene have returned (155–8), Mérope interrupts again:

  Mérope:   Il craint autant qu’il aime,   6 (2-4)   159
    Vous devez l’excuser.   6 (3-3)   160
    L’amour extrême   4 (2-2)   161
    Sert d’excuse lui-même   6 (3-3)   162
    Aux craintes qu’il a su causer.   8 (2-6)   163
  Mér., And., & Phi.:   Ah! que l’amour cause d’alarmes!   8 (1-3-4)   164
    Ah! que l’amour aurait d’attraits,   8 (1-3-4)   165
    S’il ne troublait jamais   6 (4-2)   166
    La douceur de ses charmes!   6 (3-3)   167
    Ah! que l’amour aurait d’attraits,   8 (1-3-4)   168
    Si l’on aimait toujours en paix!   8 (4-4)   169

[Mérope: He fears as much as he loves. You should excuse him. Extreme love serves as the excuse itself for the fears it causes. Mérope, Andromède, Phinée: Ah! How love causes anxiety! Ah! How attractive love would be if its sweet charms were never troubled! Ah! How attractive love would be if one always loved in peace!]

She does not use a different line length this time (she keeps to the same lengths of four, six and eight syllables found in lines 155–8), nor even very different sounds from those of Phinée and Andromède (“craint” in particular echoes “craindre,” “feindre,” and “croyez” of the preceding lines). She does avoid using the same rhythmic pattern in successive lines, however, and she introduces new sounds (“L’amour extrême,” for example, in line 161) before returning to the sounds of the quarrel in “Aux craintes qu’il a su causer” (line 163). This combination of the familiar and the new does not create a movement from argument to dialogue, as had her first speech (lines 104–9), which contrasted so sharply with what had come before. Instead, the combination leads to a trio that has a different structure from the preceding lines but also maintains several similarities. The line lengths (6, 8) are similar to those of Mérope’s lines 159–63, yet their rhythms are different. The sounds are mostly similar to Mérope’s “L’amour extrême” (and to those of many love songs, which favor words such as amour, douceur, charmes, and toujour), but an element of harshness is introduced by the sounds of words such as attraits.13 On the whole, there are enough common formal elements in these eleven lines (159–69), to allow the listener to realize that the trio is not an independent musical number but a response to Mérope’s intervention, parallel to the four lines (110–3) sung by Andromède and Phinée near the beginning of the scene. As in lines 98–113, argument and intervention are followed by an interaction involving all three characters (Andromède and Phinée address Mérope in lines 111–3), and there is a strong sense that a carefully constructed ABA' structure has come to a close.

5.10 Indeed, the trio could end the scene. The lovers are not quite through quarreling, however, and Andromède and Phinée begin another exchange, interrupted this time not by Mérope but by Andromède’s announcement that the games are about to begin. It is a brilliant stroke by Quinault, I would say, prolonging briefly a clear pattern of quarrel-interruption-dialogue-quarrel-interruption only to end it by the occurrence of an external event.

5.11 To summarize, one could outline the scene as follows:

   A (16 lines)   Argument (98–103)
    Mérope’s intervention (104–9)
    Interaction: Andromède and Phinée address Mérope (110–3)
  B (41 lines)   Dialogue between Andromède and Phinée (114–54)
  A' (15 lines)   Repeat of part of the argument (155–8)
    Mérope’s second intervention (159–63)
    Trio for Mérope, Andromède and Phinée (164–9)
  Transition (5 lines)  

Argument between Andromède and Phinée begins again,   but is quickly interrupted (170–4)

6. Lully’s Act I, Scene 4 in Relation to Quinault’s Poetry

6.1 In studying Lully’s score,14 what can we learn about, if not his actual interaction with Quinault (leaving open the fascinating question of whether Lully might have asked for any changes), at least his reaction to the text Quinault had provided? Since I have described a way of dividing the poetry of the scene into sections and subsections, based on its form and concentrating on the role of Mérope, let us look at some of Lully’s sections and subsections, especially those that involve the role of Mérope.15

6.2 The “A” section of the libretto and its subsections are clearly delineated in the score. The scene begins in G major, which will change to G minor at the beginning of the “B” section. The vocal lines of the first exchange between Andromède and Phinée (lines 98–103)—set as a duet with imitative entries—are, as befits an argument, direct and clear-cut, made up entirely of quarter and eighth notes in duple meter, often with repeated notes on the same pitch. Mérope does not change the key when she intervenes (she is not that strong a character), but her passage (lines 104–9), having the dance-like lilt of a triple-meter air, creates a strong contrast with the insistent rhythms and overlapping phrase units of the argument (Example 1, Figure 1, Audio 1). This passage suggests Mérope’s desire to establish a calmer atmosphere, but her efforts fail, and in the final segment of section “A”, Andromède abandons the triple meter with the last word of her first line (“éclate”). She and Phinée soon sound as they did at the beginning of the scene, and a strong cadence in G major ends the section (Example 2, Figure 2, Audio 2).

6.3 The move from section “B” to section “A'” of the libretto is less straightforward. As discussed above, Quinault has supplied Lully with a return to some of the opening dialogue, suggesting a reprise of the opening section, but the return to earlier poetry does not come at the beginning of a speech. As a result, Lully begins section “A'” in the middle of a musical phrase. (Quinault had provided a smooth transition: in lines 154–5: “Ne me faites point d’injustice” has the same rhythm as “Je veux vous aimer, je le dois.” Lully followed his lead, setting the lines with parallel rhythmic values.) Once the reprise is underway, Lully uses almost exactly the same music he had used the first time this passage was heard (Example 3, Figure 3, Audio 3). The end of the reprise (i.e., the end of the first subsection of “A'”, before Mérope’s second intervention) is marked by a strong cadence.16

6.4 Moreover, Lully had already reestablished the key of G major near the middle of section “B”,17 with Phinée’s air “Vous suivez à regret” (lines 136–9). Thus, the return from minor to major is used not to emphasize the reprise (“A'”) but rather to divide the scene roughly in half: the return to the original mode comes near the middle of the scene, after thirty-eight lines and with thirty-nine remaining, and near the middle of section “B”, after twenty-two lines and with nineteen remaining. (For a visual image of these proportions, see my annotated libretto for the complete scene in the Appendix.) The distinction between minor and major modes thus sets off the first two exchanges between Andromède and Phinée in section “B” (lines 114–35) from the next series of exchanges (lines 136–54). Each of the two minor-mode exchanges ends with Andromède asking a rather rhetorical question, referring to lovers in general, not to the two individuals involved: in lines 121–2, “Un amant assuré du bonheur qu’il désire, / Peut-il être jaloux d’un malheureux rival?” (“Can a lover assured of the happiness he desires be jealous of an unhappy rival?”); and in lines 134–5, “A-t-on accoutumé / De fuir ce que l’on aime?” (“Do people make a habit of avoiding those they love?”). In the major-mode portion, on the other hand, the initial exchange ends with Andromède’s question about the specific situation (line 143), which leads in turn to Phinée’s interjection (“Ah!”) and his threat of bodily harm (line 144), and then to her frightened reaction (line 148):

  Andromède:   Votre importun soupçon veut-il m’ouvrir les yeux?   12 (4-2/4-2)   143
  Phinée:   Ah! si vous le flattiez de la moindre espérance,   12 (1-5/3-3)   144
    Le Dieu qu’il vous fait croire auteur de sa naissance,   12 (2-4/2-4)   145
    Dût-il faire éclater son foudroyant courroux,   12 (3-3/4-2)   146
    Ne le sauverait pas de mon transport jaloux.   12 (6/4-2)   147
  Andromède:   Juste Ciel!      
  Phinée:                   Vous tremblez! Persée a su vous plaire   12 (3-3/2-4)   148
    Si son péril peut vous troubler.   8 (4-4)   149

[Andromède: Does your troubling suspicion seek to open my eyes? Phinée: Ah! If you delude him with the least hope, the god whom he claims as the author of his birth, even if he should unleash his thunderous anger, would not save him from my jealous transport. Andromède: Heavens above! Phinée: You tremble! Persée has certainly known how to please you if you are troubled by his peril.]

This second series of exchanges constitutes, from the point of view of its poetic content, a continuum that it would not seem appropriate to divide with a strong musical articulation.18

6.5 Several elements of poetic form also suggest a strong articulation between lines 135 and 136, the point at which Lully returns to major mode. Lines 134–5 are the only pair of adjacent six-syllable lines in the scene before Mérope’s second intervention, and while their combined line length makes it possible to read them as the fourth in a series of four alexandrines, the rhyme between “alarmé” and “accoutumé” clearly identifies line 134 as an independent line, a status that Lully underscores by giving strong metric, rhythmic, and harmonic weight to the last syllable of line 134 (heard twice).19 This pair of six-syllable lines serves as section-ending punctuation, slowing the pace before the return to alexandrines in lines 136–7.

  Andromède:   Quel plaisir prenez-vous à vous troubler vous-même?   12 (3-3/4-2)   131
    Et de quoi votre amour peut-il être alarmé?   12 (3-3/3-3)   132
    Je fuis votre rival avec un soin extrême;   12 (2-4/4-2)   133
    A-t-on accoutumé   6 (2-4)   134
    De fuir ce que l’on aime?   6 (2-4)   135
  Phinée:   Vous suivez à regret la Gloire et le Devoir,   12 (3-3/2-4)   136
    En fuyant un amant à vos yeux trop aimable.   12 (3-3/3-3)   137
      Vous l’avez trouvé redoutable,   8 (5-3)   138
    Puisque vous craignez de le voir.   8 (5-3)   139

[Andromède: What pleasure do you take in becoming upset? And for what reason can your love worry you? I take extreme care to stay away from your rival. Do people make a habit of avoiding those they love? Phinée: With regret you follow the path of Glory and Duty by avoiding a lover whom you find too attractive. You have evidently found him formidable since you fear to see him.]

6.6 Quinault also emphasizes the end of the G-minor portion by beginning its final sentence (lines 133–5) with a two-syllable group (“Je fuis”), which stands out after several hemistiches beginning with three- or four-syllable groups. The “Je fuis” of line 133 also begins a declarative clause, presenting a contrast with the two questions preceding it. The return to G major in line 136 thus comes at a clear point of articulation but not, from the point of view of the poetic content of the scene, one as clear as that made by the return of lines 100–3 at the end of section “B”.

6.7 The fact that neither Quinault nor Lully comes to a full stop (beginning of a new speech; full cadence) after line 154, the end of the “B” section, suggests that they wanted their three-part structure to convey something more than formal balance. Since they do not precede the beginning of section “A'” with a strong point of articulation, the return of “Je veux vous aimer, je le dois” (line 155) strikes the listener as an indication of the lack of communication between Andromède and Phinée (their discussion has gotten them nowhere and they can only repeat earlier statements) before it can be recognized as the beginning of a section. Again, this inability to communicate is underlined by an intervention by Mérope, who begins the second subsection of section “A'” as she had the second subsection of section “A”, in lilting triple meter. In other words, “A'” clearly parallels “A”, despite the lack of a strong point of articulation to begin it.

6.8 The third subsection, like that in section “A”, moves away from the triple meter of Mérope’s solo and reintroduces Andromède and Phinée. The presence of an ensemble here (a trio), instead of a dialogue as in the corresponding part of section “A”, suggests a conclusion to the structure. Nevertheless, the brief transitional passage (lines 170–4) that follows the trio, in which Andromède and Phinée briefly quarrel before attention quickly turns to the divertissement to follow, underlines the fact that the three characters all have different points of view even though they sang the same words in the trio, and that the argument could break out again. The structure of the scene as a whole thus remains open-ended; it does not conclude with the end of section “A'”, just as it did not come to a strong point of poetic or musical articulation before the beginning of section “A'”.

7. Conclusion

7.1 In many ways, then, it is Mérope who gives the scene its structure and much of its interest. Without her, it would have been a long—and potentially tedious—argument between two characters, an argument that, since it goes nowhere, would be difficult to structure. More important, it is Mérope who, with her two interventions, provides the three-part structure for sections “A” and “A'”, thus giving shape to the outer sections of the form. And perhaps still more important, it is her second intervention that allows Lully to make clear that we are in a third section (“A'”), similar to the first, without having to “interrupt” the argument between Andromède and Phinée with a strong point of articulation. It is Mérope who provides the interruption, so Lully can allow the music to flow smoothly from one section to another, for the sake of the drama.

7.2 One begins to see why Quinault would invent this remarkable character, and how Lully helps him bring her to life. (Again the unanswerable question: how much of her role was Lully’s idea?) She is a key character, but it is clear from this scene that hers is also a secondary role. By the end of the scene, she has been led into an ensemble with characters whose feelings she does not share, just as she will be led by Phinée in IV, 2 and V, 2. She began the scene immediately after a monologue similar to those of important, domineering characters such as Médée (Thésée) and Cybèle (Atys); at the end she is part of a trio in a scene dominated by two other characters. She is essential to the structure of the libretto, but she must disappear before the end. For, to return to Forestier’s génétique théâtrale method, it was probably with the end that Quinault began—that is, with a marriage between Andromède and Persée—and Mérope is not a part of that end. She must have been a very important part of the discussions between Quinault and Lully as they created Persée, however, and their treatment of her offers an excellent example of how poetry and music can be combined to turn an almost commonplace formal scheme into a delicate portrait of three characters.


* Buford Norman (normanb@gwm.sc.edu) is Alcorn Memorial Professor of Foreign Languages at the University of South Carolina. Among his publications are a critical edition of Quinault’s librettos, and Touched by the Graces: The Libretti of Philippe Quinault in the Context of French Classicism (Birmingham, Ala.: Summa, 2001). His current project is a study of Racine and music.

** I would like to thank Lois Rosow, the other participants in the Persée sessions at the “Musical Intersections” conference in Toronto (November 2000), and the readers for the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music for their valuable suggestions.

1 The best known account is that of Jean-Laurent Lecerf de la Viéville, in Comparaison de la musique italienne, et de la musique françoise, 2nd ed. (Brussels: Foppens, 1705–6; reprint, Geneva: Minkoff, 1972), 2:212–6. I have discussed this collaboration in the introduction to my Touched by the Graces, especially pp. 27–30.

2 I do not mean to suggest that Lully had no influence on Quinault’s literary structure, or that Quinault had none on Lully’s musical structure (beyond the shape of the poetry itself). There is likely to be some truth to the stories that Lully frequently insisted that Quinault make revisions, and I would like to think that Quinault sometimes suggested how Lully might set a particular line or organize a particular scene.

3 Quinault also wrote librettos for two large-scale court ballets by Lully during this period.

4 See the similar diagram in Cuthbert M. Girdlestone, La Tragédie en musique (1673–1750) considérée comme genre littéraire (Geneva: Droz, 1972), 86. He discusses the structure of Act I, scene 4 briefly on p. 88. Etienne Gros compares Persée to other Quinault librettos in Philippe Quinault, sa vie et son œuvre (Paris: Champion, 1926), 619–21.

5 One possible reason is that Lully needed a better role for Marie (“Marthe”) Le Rochois than that of a vain and aging queen. Le Rochois had recently had great success as Aréthuse in Proserpine and would soon replace Marie Aubry—who sang Andromède in 1682 but would retire two years later—as the leading soprano. However, whatever the reasons, the structure stands as it is, and an analysis of the role of Mérope does not depend on Quinault’s intentions.

6 Georges Forestier, Essai de génétique théâtrale: Corneille à l’œuvre, Collection d’esthéthique 59 (Paris: Klincksieck, 1996). Forestier also looks at many other aspects of Corneille’s plays, including the situation in which Corneille found himself when he chose the subject of a play. It would require a separate, and rather long, essay to look carefully at Quinault’s situation in 1681–2, and I can only suggest here a few directions for further inquiry. I have already discussed briefly how one can compare Persée to the librettos that preceded it. More specifically, why would Quinault choose the legend of Perseus? (If he had a choice: the legend was frequently used as an allegorical representation of a monarch’s virtues, and according to the dedicatory epistle in the 1682 score, Louis XIV chose the subject; see the quotation in my Touched by the Graces, 244, or the quoted excerpts in Manuel Couvreur, Jean-Baptiste Lully: musique et dramaturgie au service du Prince [Brussels: Marc Vokar Editeur, 1992], 342–4.) The most obvious answer is that it contains a well-known hero and a love story with spectacular scenes including gods, goddesses, and monsters. Why would he emphasize rivalry? He was perhaps looking back at the jealousies that resulted in his disgrace in 1677, perhaps looking forward to the installation of the court at Versailles in May 1682, which would only further intensify the rivalries among courtiers.

7 Forestier, 129, cites Marie-Odile Sweetser’s criticism of Corneille in La dramaturgie de Corneille (Geneva: Droz, 1977), 165. Concerning Quinault, Girdlestone, 90, criticizes the last act indirectly, whereas Gros, 622, finds it connected very naturally to the preceding acts. Philippe Beaussant, in Lully, ou le musicien du soleil (Paris: Gallimard and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, 1992), 605, suggests that the end of Act IV would be “une belle fin.”

8 Forestier, 131; see Pierre Corneille, Andromède, ed. Christian Delmas (Paris: M. Didier, 1974), Act I, scene 1, 220–33.

9Here and below I quote the libretto of Persée from my edition: Philippe Quinault, Livrets d’opéra, ed. Buford Norman (Toulouse: Société de littératures classiques, 1999). Line numbering begins with Act I, scene 1.

10 Lines sung at the same time are numbered as one line.

11 From the point of view of the listener, what the ear hears earliest and most readily is of key importance for the recognition of formal structure. Sound and rhythm would thus take precedence over such structural elements as line length, speech length, and rhyme, in spite of the great importance of these latter elements for an overall understanding of form, especially when reading. The composer complicated matters, adding musical sounds and structure to poetic ones, but he most likely took into account which poetic elements were most immediately accessible to listeners.

12 The fact that Lully set these lines for Mérope as an air does not contradict a reading of them as an attempt at dialogue. In the first place, one can read them as a literary text, independent of Lully’s setting. In the second place, the musical contrast between this air and the preceding duet underscores Mérope’s efforts to change the pace, while the fact that the air will not be answered by another air suggests that her efforts will not be successful.

13 The meaning of the word is of course not as “harsh” as its sounds, but there is a suggestion of the arrows (traits) of love, which can cause pain as well as pleasure.

14 Jean-Baptiste Lully, Persée, tragédie mise en musique (Paris: Christophe Ballard, 1682; reprint, New York: Broude International Editions, 1998). See Gregory Proctor’s transcription of the entire scene in his Appendix.

15 This is essentially the same issue that Rosow studies in Act V, scene 1 of Armide: Lully’s “manner of giving large-scale shape to dialogue scenes by introducing points of articulation of varying strength”; Lois Rosow, “The Articulation of Lully’s Dramatic Dialogue,” Lully Studies, ed. John Hajdu Heyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 72–3. Other scholars talk of scene-building, the use of recurring elements, patterns of scoring, alternating musical elements, and tonal architecture; see, for example, Raphaëlle Legrand, “Persée de Lully et Quinault: orientations pour l’analyse dramaturgique d’une tragédie en musique,” Analyse musicale 27 (1992): 9–14. In the dialogue scenes of French tragédie en musique, these points of articulation are less obvious than in those of Italian opera seria, where a quick look at the libretto reveals an obvious distinction between recitative and aria.

16 The cadences ending the two statements of the duet are different. See Gregory Proctor’s “A Schenkerian Look,” paragraph 4.7.

17 Proctor Appendix, m. 124.

18 This second series of exchanges is also characterized by a different type of vocabulary, featuring words associated with violence, such as craignez, éclater, foudroyant courroux, and transport jaloux (“fear,” “break out,” “thunderous anger,” “jealous transport”). Earlier, lines 123–30 had a more galant vocabulary, such as chaine and poids charmant (“chain,” “charming weight”), and remained somewhat conciliatory.

19 Proctor Appendix, mm. 116 and 121.

Musical Examples

Example 1: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 98–107

Example 2: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 109–13

Example 3: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 152–8

Audio Examples

Audio 1: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 98–107

Audio 2: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 109–13

Audio 3: Lully, Persée, Act I, scene 4, lines 152–8


Figure 1: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 20–2

Figure 2: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 22–3

Figure 3: Lully, Persée (Paris: Ballard, 1682), 32–3

Appendix: Annotated Transcription of Persée, Act I, Scene 4

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