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8.557219 - DUPARC: Songs
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Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Songs

A piano pupil of César Franck as a schoolboy, Henri Duparc studied law, while continuing his musical interests with composition lessons from the same teacher. Much of the music he wrote at this time, he discarded, but in 1868 he published a set of piano pieces, Feuilles volantes, and wrote five songs, of which he kept only two, Soupir and Chanson triste, although the other three were not destroyed and were rediscovered some years after his death. Duparc’s career as a composer was a short one. In Paris he was associated with the foundation of the Société Nationale de Musique, which gave its first concert in 1871 and involved, on its committee, Saint-Saëns, Alexis de Castillon, Romaine Bussine, the violinist and composer Jules Auguste Garcin and the composer and teacher Charles Lenepveu. As secretary of the organization, Duparc had a reputation for administrative efficiency, reflected in his subsequent career in local provincial government but sorting ill with the hyperaesthesia that ended his creative career as a composer at the age of 36.

Duparc, in common with other contemporaries in France, was greatly influenced by Wagner. In Munich he had heard Das Rheingold and Tristan und Isolde, during a visit there with Vincent d’Indy in 1869, and the following years brought further visits, including, in 1879, an expedition to Bayreuth with Emmanuel Chabrier. At the same time he was at the forefront of cultural fashions of the time, an enthusiast for the literature, drama and painting of the day.

In the years that followed the end of his career as a composer, Duparc continued to interest himself in all the arts, occupying himself with painting and drawing, until the onset of blindness and in his final years complete paralysis. He died in 1933 at the age of 85.

The creative career of Duparc lasted sixteen years and his most significant contribution to music lies in his sixteen solo songs. After the last of these, written in 1884, he wrote nothing, but was able to work on orchestrations of some of the song accompaniments and on editing earlier compositions, while he was still able to see. His choice of texts for his songs suggests a mood of melancholy that ultimately seems to have triumphed in final silence.

The 1868 songs begin with Chanson triste (Sad Song) 2, revised in 1902 with an orchestral version ten years later. The text is by Henri Cazalis, who used the pen-name Lahor. It was Cazalis, one of the Parnassian poets of the period, who wrote the Danse macabre set by Saint-Saëns and later the basis of the orchestral work of that title. The range of the vocal part is relatively wide, the accompaniment in broken chords, with adventurous use of harmony. This is followed in apparent order of composition by Soupir (Sigh) 8, also revised in 1902. The verse set is by Sully-Prudhomme, one of the leading French Parnassian poets of the time, and the setting is dedicated to Duparc’s mother. The early group of songs also includes a setting of Victor Wilder’s version of Goethe’s Kennst du das Land, from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the Romance de Mignon (Mignon’s Song), set by so many composers, from Beethoven and Schubert onwards. Sérénade 1 sets words by Gabriel Marc with an arpeggiated accompaniment that suggests something of the earlier work of Fauré. The group of five songs, of which Duparc himself only retained the first two, ends with a setting of Sully-Prudhomme’s Le galop 12, dedicated to the composer’s brother and impelled forward with the impetus suggested by the text.

1870 brought Duparc’s setting of Baudelaire’s L’invitation au voyage (Invitation to a Journey) 4, dedicated to his wife and acknowledged as one of the finest of his songs. It was later orchestrated. In 1871 came the dramatic La vague et la cloche (The Wave and the Bell) 9, conceived first with an orchestral accompaniment that was first arranged for piano by Vincent d’Indy, to whom the work is dedicated, to be followed by Duparc’s own piano version of the accompaniment. The words are by François Coppée, known as the poète des humbles, from the title of one of his poems and his preoccupation with the ordinary people of Paris. The same year brought the duet for soprano and tenor, La fuite (The Flight) 15, with words by Théophile Gautier and dedicated to Henri Regnault. The girl Kadidja urges her hesitant lover Ahmed to elope with her, in spite of the dangers that threaten them from her brothers and the sorrow caused her father.

Written in 1874, Elégie 14, in memory of Henri de Lassus, is a deeply felt setting of a prose translation of Thomas Moore’s poem on the death of the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. In the same year Duparc wrote his setting of Lahor’s Extase (Ecstasy) 10, dedicated to the composer and writer Camille Benoît, later keeper of antiquities at the Louvre. The song is again imbued with a mounting emotional intensity.

It was not until about 1879 that Duparc returned to the composition of songs with a setting of Le manoir de Rosemonde (Rosemonde’s Manor) 3, with its haunted search, dedicated to the author of the text, Robert de Bonnières. In 1880 or 1881 followed a setting of another poem by the pseudonymous Jean Lahor, Sérénade florentine (Florentine Serenade) 7, with its suggestions of Fauré. 1882 brought a setting of the Parnassian poet Leconte de Lisle’s Phidylé 5, dedicated to Ernest Chausson, with a setting of Théophile Gautier’s Lamento 13 the following year, dedicated to Fauré. Testament 6, written about this time, is an effective setting of verse by Armand Silvestre, a poet who attracted the attention of a number of composers, in spite of what is now seen as the mediocrity of his verse. The last completed song is La vie antérieure (My Previous Life) 11, written in 1884 and dedicated to the composer Joseph Guy Ropartz, a setting of a poem by Baudelaire. The rest was silence.

Keith Anderson


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