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Arnold Schönberg wrote Pelleas and Melisande in 1902 after Strauss had recommended to him Maurice Maeterlinck’s five-act drama with its sequence of mood and scene paintings heavily laden with symbolism.
The post-Romantic musical gestures of the large-scale orchestra are never “purely descriptive”, as Alban Berg insists in his analysis, but revolve around the aesthetic idea of interpreting the subject not as content of, but as pre-condition for the music (Therese Muxeneder).
The first performance in Vienna in 1905, under Schönberg’s direction, unleashed a grand furore – one of the critics suggested putting me in a mental institution and keeping manuscript paper out of my reach (Arnold Schönberg).