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Four years later, my father was able to buy the house at number 12 in the Rue du Vert-Buisson, where my grandfather lived as a tenant. Then, a music room was built, for which my grandfather hadn’t hesitated to sacrifice part of his garden. For the inauguration of the music room, my father had formed a group of singers and had practised with them. They performed the 'Grail' scene from the first act of 'Parsifal'. Music determined Marcel Dupré's life from his early childhood. His father, Albert Dupré, was a student of Alexandre Guilmant, taught music at the Lycée Corneille and was the organist at Saint-Ouen in Rouen. His mother, Alice Chauvière, was a pianist and cellist. Guilmant became a close friend of the family and was best man to Marcel's parents. This is also how Marcel came to take organ lessons with him at a young age. The aforementioned renovations to house no. 12 in the Rue du Vert-Buisson were not to be the end of the story. The music room, which had become too small, soon had to make way for a larger hall. Albert Dupré commissioned Cavaillé-Coll to build an organ with 11 stops,
which can still be heard today as the choir organ in Rouen Cathedral. Albert had wanted to found a choir for a long time. But that was more difficult than he thought: Against all odds, Albert succeeded in founding a choir that quickly grew to 100 singers. He was director of the ensemble with the melodious name "L'Accord parfait" for 34 years from 1897 onwards. Later, the choir was joined by an orchestra with around 60 members. It wasn’t long before the music hall was bursting at the seams and had to be further extended, for which the last bit of garden was sacrificed. The choir performed the great masterpieces of choral music, such as Handel's "Messiah", Berlioz' "L'Enfance du Christ", Bach's Passions or Brahms' "German Requiem". Little Marcel was always in on the action and one can well imagine how he explored this world with all his senses. Private choral initiatives were quite common at the time. There were quite a number of ensembles working very professionally,
e.g. orchestras with a choir that performed Wagner in a private setting. If you wanted to listen to music and couldn't go to the theatre, you had to play it yourself. People also had a much better musical education than later. There were quite a lot of people who could play the piano, and were able to work their way through the piano score of a Wagner opera, or had singing lessons at some point and could manage their voice to some extent. One name that comes up again and again in this context is Richard Wagner. Opinions differed about him. Some were fed up with French number operas and were pleased with Wagner's new approach. Composers like Meyerbeer, on the other hand, criticised his "musique de l'avenir" (music of the future). A downright battle ensued between critics and supporters, which was fought out in public.
Concerts with Wagner's music were regularly accompanied by "shouting and discussions" that "always threatened to turn into acts of violence". The scandalous Paris premiere of his opera "Tannhäuser" has become legendary. Widor and Saint-Saëns appreciated his music, and so did literary figures such as Baudelaire. Baudelaire in particular wrote about Wagner that he was as much a poet as he was a musician. Years later, Marcel Dupré, who was himself a passionate Wagnerian and experienced one of the rare Toscanini performances in Bayreuth, put it similarly: "Wagner unites in himself all the rhythmic arts and epochs. In him we find the dramatist who, much like the Greeks, masters the sovereignty of the inner plot; the poet, with Germanic roots, using alliteration. the musician, by means of Bachian symbolic language and inspired by Beethoven, giving the instruments their human soul; and we find the Renaissance painter referring to the significance of the gesture. His singing expresses all feelings: in "Tannhäuser" and the "Meister[singer]" the love of music, language and homeland;
in "Tristan": pain and love. He reveals the afterlife to us in "Lohengrin" and "Parsifal" and leads us out of this world into the giant epic of the human race that is "The Ring of the Nibelung". We can only thank him and bow in silence And what does it matter if he closed the door behind him?” In the Dupré household, the admiration for Wagner produced strange effects. Can you imagine a Wagner opera as a puppet theatre? “To entertain his children, my grandfather Aimable Dupré had built a small theatre with puppets playing "Sleeping Beauty". My father, on his part, had the idea of building one. During the holidays he started to work on the castle set for the second act of "Lohengrin". As we did not yet have electricity, all the lighting effects, which were delightful, were achieved by using gas and different coloured glass. The characters in our theatre, wonderfully sculpted, were charming. It was with childish joy that I followed all these works which filled me with admiration.
Alas, looted during World War II, nothing has been left to us but traces of this dear little theatre.” Though the puppet theatre was looted during World War II, the remains are still in the attic of the Meudon Mansion, waiting for a loving restorer. As you can see, private salons were one of the pillars of Wagner appreciation. According to newspaper articles of the time, the quality of privately initiated choirs must have been outstanding. Similarly, "L'accord parfait" was invited several times to leave the provinces and give concerts in Paris. Depending on the size of the venues and the availability of musicians, the original line-up had to be adapted accordingly. People were certainly less demanding overall, partly because they had no means of comparison. There was this travelling Wagner theatre by Angelo Neumann. Of course, they went on to work with small casts. They did the same with Meyerbeer operas. On the other hand, there were ensembles that worked with amateurs,
at least with an amateur orchestra. And according to certain reports, that must have been remarkable. The critics who saw them in Paris had in many cases been to the Bayreuth Festival the year before or the same year. That means they certainly did have some basis to compare. In fact, it was not until 1905 that Wagner's music was allowed to be taught at the Paris Conservatoire. Two years later, Dupré became a student in Charles-Marie Widor's composition class. Widor became Dupré's fatherly friend and mentor, to whom he owed many career advancing opportunities. The main goal of Widor’s composition course was to prepare aspiring composers for the "Prix de Rome", a kind of "Grammy Award" for French composers. The winner of the prize was offered a generous scholarship and a three-year stay at the Villa Medici in Rome. Since the theme of the competition usually involved a dramatic subject, Widor was forced to focus on teaching operatic compositional techniques.
With a certain persistence, he encouraged Dupré to take up the challenge of the "Prix de Rome". Dupré initially found it difficult to come to terms with the idea of operatic composition. He felt that Richard Wagner had already said everything there was to say in that area. After two failed attempts, he finally won the coveted prize in 1914 with his cantata "Psyché". However, Dupré was unable to embark on his visit to Rome because of the First World War, which began shortly thereafter. Dupré wrote "Soir sur la plaine" as a competition piece for the "Prix de Rome" the year before his great success. You can find the poems in the original version and in English and German translations on our website. The lyrical words were written by Albert Samain, who was actually an administrative employee in his main profession. He was a representative of Symbolism In contrast to realism, symbolism creates a world of beauty as well as ideal and aesthetic perfection. The subject matter of the poems is often a reaction to the changes in the world.
The poems create spiritual retreats and open up spaces of longing: The phenomenon of the big city is, after all, a relatively recent one. People feel uprooted and social contacts are becoming more difficult. This longing for nature, as can be seen in the poem "La Source" by Leconte de Lisle, is an image of wishful thinking. Parisians don't usually have that. On Sundays they take a trip to the "banlieues", to the suburbs; there you might find some grass to sit and have a picnic on. But that's not true nature. True nature is too far away to go there on a Sunday. There are numerous mythological references in the literary pieces of that period. The poetic drama "Polyphème" by Albert Samain is much influenced by mythological creatures of nature. It is about Polyphemus, who according to Greek mythology is the oldest Cyclops and son of Poseidon.
The drama tells the popular story of Polyphemus' attempt to steal Galatea of Acis. Jean Cras set the entire libretto to music in his opera of the same name. Marcel Dupré used only a small part of the libretto for his composition and gave it the title "Crèpuscule" (“Dusk”). Originally written for women's choir and orchestra, this scene is about nymphs playing games while day and night are in transition, before finally coming to rest.
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