Australian composer Richard Meale (1932–2009) has shown an enduring interest in writing for the flute across solo and chamber settings. His compositional output, reading interests, and personal views captured in interviews and articles also suggest a recurring interest in French music and culture more broadly. Meale’s interest in French aesthetics has been documented in relation to his 1960 Sonata for Flute and Piano which draws upon European modernist trends, particularly those of post-war composers Pierre Boulez and Olivier Messiaen. However, in 1996 towards the end of his life, Meale wrote another solo flute work, Mélisande, inspired by Claude Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande. Despite Meale drawing on this seminal twentieth-century French work, Mélisande has been largely neglected and remains relatively unknown. Furthermore, Meale has written about the two Pelléas et Mélisande–derived themes he used in Mélisande—inviting us to compare Meale’s flute work to Debussy’s opera—yet these relationships have hardly been explored.
This study investigates the multiple dimensions of Meale’s history and context in his flute writing. In particular, this is through an analysis of his Flute Sonata, and an exploration of three twentieth-century solo flute works associated with a French Flute School. Secondly, this research contributes to the record of the compositional history of Mélisande by exploring dedicatee Geoffrey Collins’s relationship with Meale and perspectives on the work. The study culminates in a thematic analysis of Mélisande. Through comparing Mélisande to several key French solo flute works, this research examines the relationships between these pieces, demonstrating how Meale draws upon French Flute School traditions in his own writing. Thus Meale’s solo flute writing becomes a useful way of examining his compositional influences: bookended by the post-war modernists and the impressionists, what remains consistent is his French sources of inspiration.