The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian L 124 – Mystery play

In the autumn of 1910 the Italian poet and playwright asked Debussy to compose incidental music for The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, a mystery play he was writing. Due to time constraints, some of the orchestration was done by André Caplet, a colleague of Debussy’s. The French-language work is a typical hybrid genre incorporating elements of drama, oratorio, ballet and pantomime. The title role was created by Ida Rubinstein, a dancer with exceptional acting skills who had made her mark as a member of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and inspired the entire production. The premi?re was given a lukewarm reception. The critics slammed d’Annunzio for his lengthy, rambling, grandiloquent text – but heaped praise on Debussy’s music and suggested he should produce a concert version of the work. The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is today generally performed in this version, with or without Sebastian’s prose texts. Caplet also put together a four-movement orchestral suite version which is known as “Symphonic Fragments.”


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