Musical Dandysme: Aestheticism and Orientalism in fin-de-siècle France

This dissertation explores some of the ways in which fin-de-si�cle French composers negotiated the boundaries between masculinity, aestheticism and Orientalism in their music. Dandysme – in English, dandyism – refers to the philosophy and practices of the dandy, an individual (usually male) who places particular importance upon physical appearance and mannered elegance, who lives his life with an air of cold indifference, and above all, according to Charles Baudelaire, strives to elevate aesthetics to a living religion. I examine musical dandysme as a form of sonic self-fashioning through a close examination of three composers and patrons: Robert de Montesquiou, Reynaldo Hahn, and Maurice Ravel. These men were dandies in multiple senses of the word: they were deeply concerned with fashion, manners and physical appearance, but they also strove to treat their lives as Works of Art, inflected by their aestheticized approach to composition.

While most studies of dandyism have examined it primarily as a literary and social phenomenon, my research illuminates the many ways in which Montesquiou, Hahn and Ravel incorporated the aesthetics of dandysme into their musical performance and pedagogy. More specifically, this project uses the historical figure of the French dandy-composer to theorize “posing” as a form of musical imitation. I suggest that the dandy’s aestheticism can be experienced in his music through particular forms of stylization, or poses, present in the artwork itself. Whether a type of ornament or a nostalgic recollection, these poses of musical dandysme are present throughout the works of Montesquiou, Hahn and Ravel. These composers used their music to pose both as French and as exotic subjects, thus situating themselves in relation to the temporal and geographical present of fin-de-si�cle France. For example, at Montesquiou’s 1894 party “Une f�te litt�raire � Versailles,” theatrical and musical performance fashioned a pose of nostalgia, restaging the ancien regime for contemporary tastes at Montesquiou’s Versailles villa. In compositions like Ravel’s Sh�h�razade (1903) and Hahn’s L’�le du r�ve (1898), the exotic poses of musical Orientalism allowed rich alignments and nuanced combinations of notions: of sexuality, gender, ethnos, or nation, to name only the most salient. Using these three men as case studies, this project develops a model of musical dandysme in order to examine the transition between late Romanticism and early Modernism in fin-de-si�cle French music, from approximately 1890 to 1912.