Composing out Notre-dame: How Louise Bertin Musically Represents the Hugolian Themes of Fate and Decay in La Esmeralda

Levi Walls, University of North Texas

Louise Bertin's La Esmeralda (1836) was the first operatic adaptation of Victor Hugo's Notre-dame de Paris. Hugo himself wrote the libretto, and he expressly chose Bertin over Rossini and Meyerbeer. An analysis of Bertin's setting yields general insights into musical-symbolic representations of literary characters, specifically through the use of non-third-related tonal pairings. My thesis is that Bertin establishes a dichotomy between F#--the key of Notre-dame's bells--and F♮. She uses the aural decay of F# to F♮ as a representation of the cathedral's physical decay, as well as Frollo's moral decay. The connection of F♮ to moral decay is supported by the fact that Frollo (the corrupt priest) champions F Major; meanwhile, Quasimodo champions C (the dominant of F), representing his status as Frollo's servant. Through these symbolisms, Bertin eloquently comments on Hugo's novel.