"Les Chansons de Bilitis" by Claude Debussy: A discussion of the original stage music and its resulting transcriptions
Kerbs, Susan J.
Bailey, Walter B.
Doctor of Musical Arts
In the year 1901, Claude Debussy wrote incidental music to accompany a set of staged poems written by his friend, Pierre Louys. The poems were taken from a volume of 143 poems and three epitaphs entitled, Les Chansons de Bilitis, which were published in 1894. Louys claimed that he had translated these poems from works found in the tomb of a sixth century B.C. Greek poetess named Bilitis, when in fact, he had fabricated them himself. Debussy's incidental music is scored for two flutes, two harps, celesta, and reciter. The music was not published during his lifetime and the celesta part did not survive. Several editions have since been produced with newly composed celesta parts. Pierre Boulez created a version for a 1954 performance; this version remains unpublished. Arthur Hoeree reconstituted the celesta part and made an edition for the publisher Jobert in 1971. This is the edition from which the analysis and examples in this document were taken. Rudolf Escher made a 1972 edition for the publisher Donemus, partly in reaction to his disagreements with parts of Hoeree's edition. The preparation of these editions of the incidental music was greatly aided by the fact that Debussy reworked six movements of Les Chansons de Bilitis for piano four-hands in 1914 and titled them Six Epigraphes antiques. Two versions for flute and piano have since been made from these works. Donald Peck published a version, titled Bilitis, for Bourne Co. based on Les Chansons de Bilitis in 1979, and Karl Lenski published a version for Universal Edition based on the Epigraphes, also titled Bilitis , in 1984. This document discusses all of the editions listed above, and provides background information on Pierre Louys, his friendship with Debussy, and the origins of Les Chansons de Bilitis.