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A Historical, Literary, and Musical Analysis of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites
Lowther, Gail Elizabeth

2010, Master of Music (MM), Bowling Green State University, Music History.

On 17 July 1794, at the height of Maximilien Robespierre’s “Reign of Terror” (1793-1794), sixteen Carmelite nuns were guillotined at the Place du Trône in Paris, having been condemned to death by the Revolutionary Tribunal for crimes against the French people. Beginning with Gertrud von Le Fort’s 1931 novella Die Letzte am Schafott, the account of the Carmelites’ martyrdom has since inspired a series of quasi-historical dramatic adaptations, including a film scenario (1947) by Raymond-Léopold Bruckberger with dialogues (1947-1948) by Georges Bernanos, as well as Francis Poulenc’s opera Dialogues des Carmélites (1953-1956). Although Le Fort, Bernanos, and Poulenc each appropriated some aspects of the historical account in his or her version of the martyrdom, at the heart of each retelling is the fictional story of Blanche de la Force, the progeny of Gertrud von Le Fort’s fear-stricken imagination.


In my thesis, I focus on the theme of fear in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites and specifically his characterization of Blanche de la Force and her conflicts of fear. I will compare Gertrud von Le Fort’s, Georges Bernanos’s, and Francis Poulenc’s treatment of Blanche and her fear in their respective adaptations of the story of the Carmelites of Compiègne. In particular, I focus on Poulenc’s dramatic conception of Blanche as evidenced by his musical portrayal of her character, specific stage directions, and the use of musical motives throughout the opera, with a particular concern for the scenes wherein Blanche’s conflicts of fear are most evident. Finally, I explore the political connections in Le Fort’s novella and Bernanos’s dialogues, contrasting them with Poulenc’s comparatively apolitical opera.

Eftychia Papanikolaou, PhD (Advisor)
Mary Natvig, PhD (Committee Member)
121 p.

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Lowther, G. (2010). A Historical, Literary, and Musical Analysis of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites. (Electronic Thesis or Dissertation). Retrieved from https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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Lowther, Gail. "A Historical, Literary, and Musical Analysis of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2010. OhioLINK Electronic Theses and Dissertations Center. 07 Jul 2015.

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Lowther, Gail "A Historical, Literary, and Musical Analysis of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites." Electronic Thesis or Dissertation. Bowling Green State University, 2010. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/

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