To their contemporaries, Berlioz and Duparc must have seemed unlikely torchbearers for the rarefied art of French song. Whereas the langourously heavy-lidded Fauré was surely made for what Pierre Bernac has described as the 'sensitive perceptions and impressions' of the French mélodie (in itself a more gently evocative word than its German counterpart, the lied), Berlioz appeared too much a fiery revolutionary, and Duparc a bluff and sensible bourgeois.
As the poet Théophile Gautier wrote: 'Berlioz represents the romantic musical idea: the breaking up of old moulds... unexpected effects in sound, tumultuous and Shakespearean depth of passion.' In prosaic contrast, Duparc was described by a friend as 'broadly built, stout, rather florid, with rosy cheeks, a golden moustache, a hearty voice and manner, and ever a twinkle in his eye'.
But for both men the outward form masked an extraordinary sensitivity to poetry and the singing voice: a genius for the fusion of French language and music. Gautier went on to say of Berlioz—and the description could just as easily apply to Duparc—that he also displayed 'an amorous and melancholy dreaminess, longings and questionings of the soul, infinite and mysterious sentiments, and that something more than all which escapes language but may be divined in music.' In Duparc's case, this well disguised, but extreme sensibility resulted in a debilitating nervous illness which prevented him from composing from 1885 until his death almost fifty years later in 1933.
Gautier was the poet whose texts Berlioz chose for his uniquely expressive song cycle Les Nuits d'été, originally composed for voice and piano in 1840-41. The fourth song, Absence, was the first to be orchestrated, in 1843, and Berlioz completed the others in 1856. The cycle opens optimistically with Villanelle—a pastoral love song—but then the mood changes to the gentle lament of Le Spectre de la rose and the yearning for dead and absent love in Sur les lagunes and Absence. The final two songs are visions of mythical places: the sombre Au cimetière, 'the white tomb... where at sunset a solitary dove sings her sad song', and L'Ile inconnue, the elusive island where love is eternal.
That last image held a particular fascination for 19th century French artists as they rediscovered the wistfully nostalgic world of the fêtes galantes, typified by Watteau's painting L'Embarquement pour Cythère. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Baudelaire's complementary poem, L'Invitation an voyage, among the texts chosen by Duparc. Duparc's setting, which dates from 1870, was dedicated to his wife, and as Lotte Lehmann observed: 'the music begins with a delicate weaving, like billowing veils of mist, warmed by the sun, light and silvery'. The atmosphere is similar to that of the almost mystical mountain landscapes of Charles-Marie Dulac—a contemporary painter much admired by Duparc who owned several of his canvasses.
The other Duparc songs recorded here include two from his first set published in 1868: Chanson triste, on a poem by Jean Lahor, dedicated to Duparc's brother-in-law (an excellent amateur singer); and the wistfully intimate Soupir, on a poem by Sully Prudhomme, dedicated to Duparc's mother. Next in chronological order comes the dramatic Le Manoir de Rosemonde (1879), dedicated to Robert de Bonnières who supplied the text. Here we can imagine Duparc following the advice he once gave to a fellow composer: 'Do not write the music to even one line of verse without declaiming it to yourself out loud, with the stresses and gestures'. Sérénade Florentine (1880) again draws on the poetry of Jean Lahor, while Phidylé (1882), dedicated to Ernest Chausson, and La Vie antérieure (1884), dedicated to Guy Ropartz, are settings of Leconte de Lisle and Baudelaire.
La Vie antérieure was Duparc's last song, and with its closing reference to 'the sorrowful secret that made me languish' it poignantly reflected the tragedy of Duparc's own creative life. 'Since then', he later wrote, 'I have never been able to compose. Many people believe I have a number of works in my files. There is nothing. I live in regret for what I have not done, without caring about the little that I have done'. Nevertheless, the slim legacy of mélodies by both Duparc and Berlioz was to prove a vital inspiration for succeeding generations of French composers.
Bernadette Greevy is recognised and acclaimed internationally as one of the finest mezzo-sopranos singing today. She has sung in concert with many of the great orchestras and has given innumerable recitals in all the major capitals of the world.
While it could be said that the art of recital is her first love, she has sung, with conspicuous success, several major operatic roles, including Eboli in Verdi's Don Carlos, Charlotte in Massenet's Werther, Delilah in Saint-Saëns' Samson and Delilah, the title role in Massenet's Hérodiade and Orfeo in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.
Bernadette Greevy has made many highly successful recordings, among them a nomination for Gramophone's Record of the Year. She has a particular affinity with the music of Mahler and has recently taken part in a major Mahler series in London with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under Charles Dutoit, and another highly acclaimed series with the RTE Symphony Orchestra under Janos Furst.
Among the awards with which Bernadette Greevy has been honoured are the Harriet Cohen International Music Award for 'outstanding artistry' and the Order of Merit of the Order of Malta. She has been given an Honorary Doctorate of Music by the National University of Ireland. Most recently the honour of 'Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice' was conferred on her by the Holy See.
In 1985 at the invitation of the Chinese Ministry of Culture, Miss Greevy toured the People's Republic of China where he gave recitals and Master Classes. She has also given Master Classes in New Zealand and gives regular series at the National Concert Hall in Dublin and on RTE Radio and Television.
In March 1988, and as part of the Dublin City Millennium, Trinity College, University of Dublin, conferred on Bernadette Greevy the degree of Doctor of Music.
Yan Pascal Tortelier was born in Paris in 1947. He studied piano and violin from the age of four and at fourteen won first prize for the violin at the Paris Conservatoire. Following early studies with Nadia Boulanger, he went to study conducting with Franco Ferrara in Siena. From 1974 -1983 he was leader and Associate Conductor of the Orchestre du Capitole in Toulouse. From 1989/90 he is Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the Ulster Orchestra in Northern Ireland.
Tortelier has worked with all the major symphony and chamber orchestras in London and throughout the United Kingdom. Guest engagements worldwide include the Cincinnati Symphony, Seattle Symphony, Chamber Symphony of New York, Vancouver Symphony, Helsinki Philharmonic, Warsaw Philharmonic, Barcelona Symphony, Madrid Radio Symphony and Tokyo's Yomiuri Nippon Symphony.
His operatic debut was in 1978 in Toulouse with 'Cosi fan tutte'. He has guested in the opera houses of Paris, Lyon, Naples, Scottish Opera and has done several productions for English National Opera.
Tortelier now makes his home in London and records exclusively for Chandos Records.
- BERNADETTE GREEVY - mezzo-soprano
- ULSTER ORCHESTRA - Leader, Richard Howarth
- YAN PASCAL TORTELIER - conductor
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 I. Villanelle
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 II. Le Spectre de la rose
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 III: Sur les lagunes (Lamento)
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 IV. Absence
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 V. Au cimetière
- Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits d'été, op. 7 VI. L'Ile inconnue
- Henri Duparc - Chanson triste
- Henri Duparc - Le Manoir de Rosemonde
- Henri Duparc - L'Invitation au voyage
- Henri Duparc - Soupir
- Henri Duparc - Phidylé
- Henri Duparc - La Vie antérieure
- Henri Duparc - Serenade florentine
Other recordings by Bernadette Greevy