This summer, fourth-year music student MacKenzie Stone completed an interdisciplinary project that attempted to track and explore the various influences behind Claude Debussy’s “Fêtes Galantes,” a composition for voice and piano from 1904. In order to delve into the implications of this research, The Argosy did an interview with Stone that reveals that the fields of art, literature, and music are closely interconnected in ways we may not realize. With the support of the J.E.A. Crake Foundation and Gary Tucker of Mount Allison’s Music Department, Stone embarked on a historical journey to trace the origins of the “Fêtes Galantes” and their significance to Western music and culture.
During the 1700s, French painter Antoine Watteau created the fête galante genre to equate the French aristocratic court with the mythological Greek paradise of Arcadia, a concept that was later reflected in the symbolist poems of Paul Verlaine in the mid 1800s. This idea was picked up again by pianist Claude Debussy at the turn of the century. Stone is most interested in this sequence of inheritance.
“I traced this chain of influence that connected these paintings to poetry, and then to music,” she explained, demonstrating an exceptional understanding of interdisciplinary studies. “You get a sense that all the arts are very intricately and intrinsically connected.”
Stone also identifies cultural values that gradually changed with each medium transfer, ultimately rejecting Greek decadence and idealism in favour of a bleak modernist realism. “They all had this underlying sense of melancholy,” she said, “but each artist draws it out even more as it was interpreted.”
Moreover, she believes that similar processes are at work in the musical and artistic world in a more contemporary context as well.
“Music saw a total breakdown that has carried to today in the art world,” she said, describing the deliberate avoidance of artistic conventions and traditions by contemporary musicians. “There was a time when you did something because someone before you did it similarly, but nowadays we’re much more into the individualistic.”
In general, Stone greatly enjoyed the opportunity to conduct her summer research, and sees it as a sort of art form in itself.
“You can do anything in research as long as you have an idea,” she explained, specifically noting the program’s inherent ability to combine several interrelated academic spheres. “That’s why I enjoy music so much; it’s very much an intellectual and artistic experience. For me, the sweet spot is when I can combine them.”
Stone is currently pursuing a specialization in vocal performance in her studies at Mt. A, and plans to obtain her master’s degree in Montréal, Toronto, or Winnipeg, an ambitious and impressive jump for someone from the tiny town of Bath, New Brunswick. She is especially passionate about opera, and says that she would consider its potential as a research project in the future due to its incorporation of both musical and dramatic performance. Before Stone graduates this May, she will perform a final piano and vocal recital in the spring that will showcase a culmination of her musical education at Mt. A. In the future, Stone hopes to become an educator or professor of both the performance and scholarly aspects of music, and continue her concentration on the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to the arts.