The word “melodrama” has accumulated a vast range of uses and definitions. It is the name given to the technique of combining words and music (as in the nineteenth-century musical genre); it is also used to name a mode of expressivity that is exaggerated, excessive, sentimental. These definitions appear unrelated, yet the melodramatic mode also seems to emerge frequently in musical contexts, such as opera and film—raising the question of whether the joining of words and music as such already tends toward, or attracts, a melodramatic impulse. This article first sketches the features of the melodramatic mode as they are described in writing on theater, film, and the novel before turning to a close reading of Richard Strauss's Enoch Arden, op. 38, a melodrama for speaker and piano. I aim to show that not only the themes of Enoch Arden's narrative but also the form of its narration, the meaningfulness it draws from the facts or conditions of narration as such, provide its claim to the melodramatic mode.
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