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Parisian Intersections

Baudelaire’s Legacy to Composers

Series:

Helen Abbott

The period from the 1850s to the 1890s in Paris marked a key turning point for poets and composers, as they grappled with the new ways in which poetry and music could intersect. Under the particular conditions of the time and place, both art forms underwent significant developments which challenged the status of each form. In both creative and critical work from this era, poets and composers offered tantalising but problematic insights into ‘musical’ poetry and ‘poetic’ music.
The central issue examined in this book is that of what happens to poetry when it encounters music, especially as song. The author places Baudelaire’s famous sonnet ‘La Mort des amants’ at the heart of the analysis, tracing its transposition into song by a succession of both amateur and professional composers, examining works by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Serpette, Rollinat, Debussy and Charpentier, as well as an extraordinary parodic song version by Valade and Verlaine.
A companion website offers recordings of each of the songs analysed in this book.

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Chapter 5 Parody

Extract

Poets, painters, musicians and actors frequently met together in nineteenth- century Paris. Henri Fantin-Latour’s famous 1872 painting Coin de table depicts a familiar scene of poets who meet up for regular dinners accom- panied by poetry readings.1 Henri Fantin-Latour, Coin de table (1872). 1 The painting now hangs in the Musée d’Orsay. Reproduced by kind permission of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux. 134 Chapter 5 Originally designed as a homage to Baudelaire, following the model of the same painter’s Hommage à Delacroix (1864), Baudelaire in fact no longer figures directly in the painting.2 Instead, poets who attended the monthly dinners of the Vilains bonhommes are pictured together at the end of a meal, including – significantly – Paul Verlaine on the far left and Léon Valade two in from the left (Arthur Rimbaud also famously sits between them). These two poets are the authors of the lewd parody of Baudelaire’s ‘La Mort des amants’, entitled ‘La Mort des cochons’, which was originally composed in the context of the Vilains bonshommes gatherings. This parody has been the subject of varying critical responses; the most extensive of these is by Steve Murphy who describes the apparently of fensive text as one which in fact stands, tellingly, as ‘une parodie en hommage à Baudelaire’.3 The exist- ence of this parody, however, signals a potentially problematic relationship with Baudelaire. Like the shifting status of his texts in relation to music (whether best suited to highbrow or lowbrow forms), the parody further challenges the status...

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