Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'Sultry, smouldering with pagan dreams': Theorising and Performing Gender through Debussy's Flute Music

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posted on 2023-01-16, 17:30 authored by Gregory, Isabella

Amidst a sweltering orchestral haze, the flute traces the sinuous outline of an imagined curve; atop the impassioned orations of a nymph, the flute seduces and enthralls; alongside a freize- like arrangement of nude models, the flute observes, detached and aloof. Claude Debussy’s flute compositions of 1894-1914 reconceived of the instrument’s capabilities. But it is not only technical innovation that renders these works compelling, emotive and unsettling. These works are exceptional and unusual in that they rest clearly upon imaginations of gender, sexuality and desire. It is those imaginations which propelled radical technical change. Prélude à l’après- midi d’un faune, Syrinx and Bilitis: through performance, these works animate fraught conceptual battles in art and gender. When embedded in experience, these works contest a general set of interests beyond their own limits. Inhabiting the mystery of a non-linguistic artform as able to sweep performers up in great gestures of eroticism and definitional power, these works uneasily bolster the discursive frames through which art and gender are understood. Establishing a dialogue between practices of performance in artistic and lived experience, this thesis draws heavily on Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory and Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble. Problematizing assumptive distinctions between gender performativity and musical performance, this thesis aims to understand the possibilities of the content inhabited, projected and observed through musical experience.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Music

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


van Rij, Inge