Subtitles prepared by human
I find these songs to be incredibly enjoyable. The first time you play them, you are thrilled by the melodic arcs, by the harmony, they are very appealing. To me it is not difficult to understand or digest the music. It is a delight of harmonic finesse and beautiful melodic lines. Marcel Dupré left two collections of songs: "Quatre mélodies" and "A l'amie perdue". Today we focus on the earlier collection "À l'amie perdue", brought to us by two emerging artists you have already heard before: Ayako Imoto and Ramona Laxy. In order to better place Dupré's songs in their temporal context, let's take a brief look at the history of French song: First there was the "Romance" around 1800. The "Romance" came from the "Opéra-comique" and was characterised by a comparatively high degree of simplicity. This changed for the first time when the “Schubert Lied” became known
in France in the mid-1830s. This gave the piano accompaniment a higher status, it is crafted more skilfully and does not have to consist of the same verses over and over again but can also be through-composed. And the harmonies also became more subtle. This new way of writing was then called "mélodie". This type of song received a considerable push in development by Richard Wagner. Much of what is musically important is put into the piano accompaniment and no longer into the singing part. The piano is basically like an orchestral accompaniment. The growing attention to sophisticated piano accompaniment suited Dupré, because that was where he could shine as a pianist. A career as a concert pianist would have been open to him without further ado.
In 1905, he won first prize in Louis Diémer's piano class. His professor would have liked to talk Dupré out of his plans to become an organist and predicted that as an organist he would end up as a clochard. Later, Dupré told this anecdote to a student with a smile, pointing to his villa in Meudon with the words: "Just look what a clochard I have become". A year after his Premier Prix in piano, his career almost came to an abrupt end: In January 1906, I had an accident which nearly destroyed my career as a virtuoso. In stumbling, I thrust my right hand through a glass door. My wrist slashed and losing much blood, I ran as fast a I could to the closest pharmacist, who immediately sent me to a doctor. The doctor pointed out a nerve to me. “Do you see this little ‘thread’? It is the cubital nerve. It is intact. If it had been severed, you would have had three limp fingers, permanently paralyzed.
You were very lucky.” Although Dupré made a career as an organist, he never completely lost sight of the piano. On rare occasions, he appeared as a pianist at concerts. Between 1912 and 1924, he wrote some interesting piano works. "Cortège et Litanie", for example, one of his most famous organ pieces, was originally intended for piano. He also made sure that his organ students developed solid skills on the piano. An excellent organist without a sophisticated piano technique to him was unimaginable. For a long time, singer training in France focused on opera. There was a demand for great voices that could fill an entire opera house. The classic venue for recitals were the Parisian salons. Many singers could not easily adapt vocally to the chamber music setting. This did not go unnoticed: Critics and composers complained again and again
that opera singers who suddenly had to sing songs could not express the subtleties of the language and would exaggerate all too much. Certain singers had to mature first, who then had slimmer voices. These did not necessarily always have to be professional singers. Sometimes it was even an advantage if these singers went on to emphasise other aspects of singing, such as diction. "A l'amie perdue" – "To the lost friend" - the collection of sonnets by Auguste Angellier contains as much romantic tragedy as the title promises. For many years, Angellier and his lost and - above all - married girlfriend Thérèse Fontaine wrote love letters to each other in secret. The 2,500 letters of the two are about passionate declarations of love, but also about quite ordinary things.
To prevent their secret love from being discovered, they encoded their letters. There is a whole range of techniques to encode language in such a way that an outsider cannot decode it. If the two people writing the letter have the same dictionary and the same edition, which is essential, then they count five words from the word they want to write and take the word that is there. In this way, a nonsense text is very likely to be produced. But for the recipient it is quite simple. He takes this ciphertext, looks it up again in the dictionary, and then counts up five words. So very soon he receives the plain text. It's easy to imagine that the two of them did something similar. Angellier’s lover, Thérèse, later separated from her husband, but divorce was unthinkable, especially for women at that time.
She worried about losing her children: her love for Angellier had to remain a secret. The two met only with the utmost discretion in Belgium, at the Opal Coast, in Normandy or in Paris. I don't know how Thérèse Fontaine reacted when Angellier published extracts of their correspondence under the title "À l'amie perdue" in 1896. There is evidence that she had even asked him to burn the letters. However, his legacy as a poet was obviously more important to him. Before his death in 1911, he instructed that the correspondence be made available to researchers from the 1980s onwards. No doubt he suspected that history would shed a special light on his work. Whether Angellier knew about Dupré's musical adaptation remains unknown. He might have felt flattered. But not all authors of the time sought this kind of publicity: The texts were so linguistically refined
that the poets felt that a musical adaptation wasn't even necessary. The text is music in itself. There were also poets who explicitly didn't want to be set to music. Of course, this made composers think about what they could offer the poets? Music should take over where words leave off. The singing is basically only the vehicle of the content. The rhythms are adapted to the spoken language, and the piano accompaniment has the task of creating mood and remaining in the misty and undefined. Dupré does not specify whether the songs are to be performed by male or female voices. He simply writes "for voice". The evolution of the text could imply a distribution of roles.
How freely can we act on this? People forget that in the early 20th century and increasingly in the late 19th century, this was quite common. And then there was a hole of about 50 years, which is inexplicable to me, and around 1980 it started again. In my student days and for many years afterwards, texts were changed again and again. In the “Seven early songs” by [Alban] Berg, "Maid, and remember thee" is found in the second song, “Schiffslied”, and at that time every woman sang "My lover, and remember thee". Today, all female singers say "Maid, and remember thee". Thus, the songs are a welcome addition to the repertoire for nearly all voice categories. During Dupré's time, French song was booming. At the same time, three associations were founded in France to cultivate the art song. They organised recitals and had different priorities,
such as the song of the modern age, the French song or songs from Russia and Germany. By the way, Dupré also orchestrated all seven pieces of his collection "À l'amie perdue". There were societies that received state subsidies if they could present world premieres. If no world premiere was available at the time, they simply arranged piano songs for orchestra and sold this transcription as a world premiere – an institutional trick, so to speak, to meet their quota of world premieres. After 1914, Dupré didn't make any further contributions to the French art song. He wrote small occasional compositions for friends, such as for Marcelle Perroux. She was the wife of Jean Perroux, a friend and organ builder. The simple song, whose author is unknown, was written by Dupré at his holiday home in Saint-Valéry-en-Caux in 1935.
Incidentally, this was also the place where Louis Vierne had composed his 3rd Symphony, which he had dedicated to Dupré. For the Cologne musicologist Dr. Ulrich Linke Dupré proves to be a refined composer in his "Mélodie pour Marcelle Perroux": For example, this "Mélodie [pour Marcelle Perroux]": it is in A major and at first, for one or two bars, you only hear the note E. This is not the tonic, but the fifth, but as a listener you cannot know that yet. Then the voice comes in, but not on the tonic either, but with a C-sharp. So you still don't have the feeling of a secure tonality. This gives the song something of a floating quality, which is what makes it so appealing. Marcel Dupré understands this very skilfully in this song. Even if the songs of Marcel Dupré do not belong to the canon of the song repertoire until today,
his works undoubtedly represent a valuable contribution to French song. And that's why you should judge a composer by the best pieces. And if it's a completely unknown composer who has written 5 jewels, then for me he is an important composer in the small field of song. I think that the songs of Marcel Dupré should be performed again because they are composed in a very sensual way and are very rewarding for the pianist as well as for the singers. And for the audience, these songs represent an addition to the repertoire, especially in a music business that otherwise focuses on the same works over and over again. Episode 4 online from 11th July 2021.
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