The Corsican Brothers and the Legacy of its Tremulous “Ghost Melody”


  • Michael V. Pisani Vassar College



the Corsican Brothers, Ghost Melody, television drama


Audiences for stage plays, like audiences for narrative film, rarely remember much about the music, only whether or not it was appropriate to the dramatic genre. The “Ghost Melody” represents one specific case of nineteenth-century music for melodramatic theatre that lingered in the minds of audiences long afterward. It appeared in the original French production of The Corsican Brothers (1850) and carried over into British and American stage productions. Always coupled with special scenic effects, it worked as a persuasive tool to help suspend disbelief. The melody with its setting represents a specific type of melodramatic music, one used for the supernatural appearance of a deceased loved one. Its effect resonates in the music of other stage plays and in music composed to films of a similar genre.


Booth, Michael R., ed. 1975. The Revels history of drama in English, vol. 6: 1750-1880. London: Methuen and Co.

Cockett, Stephen. 2007. Music and the representation of history in Charles Kean’s revival of Shakespeare’s Henry V. Nineteenth-Century Theatre and Film 34, no. 1 (June): 1-14.

Fawkes, Richard. 1979. Dion Boucicault: a biography. London: Quartet Books.

Fitzgerald, Percy. 1906. Sir Henry Irving: a biography. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs.

Mayer, David. 1976. Nineteenth-century theatre music. Theatre Notebook 30, no. 3: 115-22.

Mayer, David, ed. 1980. Henry Irving and The Bells: Irving’s personal script of the play by Leopold Lewis, with Etienne Singla’s original musical score arranged by Nigel Gardner. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

McClelland, Clive. 2012. Ombra: Supernatural Music in the Eighteenth Century. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.

McCormick, John. 1993. Popular theatres of nineteenth-century France. London: Routledge.

McLucas, Anne Dhu, ed. 1994. Later melodrama in America: Monte Cristo (ca. 1883). New York: Garland. Memoirs of Karoline Bauer, from the German, vol. 3. London, 1885.

N.a. 1881. The Ghost Melody in The Corsican Brothers. The Musical World (15 January): 42.

O’Neill, Norman. 1911. Music to stage plays. Proceeding for the Royal Musical Association (21 March): 85-102.

Pisani, Michael V. forthcoming. Music for melodramatic theatre in London and New York, 1780-1900. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Playbills and programmes of the British theatres, 1800-1899. Chadwyck-Healey, 1983.

Sala, Emilio (trans. Mary Ann Smart). 1995. Verdi and the Parisian boulevard theatre, 1847-9. Cambridge Opera Journal 7, no. 3: 185-205.

Steblin, Rita. 1996. History of key characteristics in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press.

Yzereef, Barry. 1995. The art of gentlemanly melodrama: Charles Kean’s production of The Corsican Brothers. Ph.D. diss. University of Victoria



How to Cite

Pisani, M. V. (2013). The Corsican Brothers and the Legacy of its Tremulous “Ghost Melody”. Journal of Film Music, 5(1-2), 29–39.