Songs of Henri Duparc and Reynaldo Hahn

Moonlight slumbers in your heart,
a gentle summer moonlight,
and to escape the cares of life
I shall drown myself in your light.

These words written by Jean Lahor (1840-1909), set to music by Henri Duparc (1848-1933) as Chanson triste and sung by Pamela Burdett offered members of Virginia Art Song Society a sweet respite from this period of national and personal angst. The October 28 meeting at Freemason Street Baptist Church offered us French Romantic poetry of great tenderness set to beautiful music. Relaxing into the music one could conjure a fin de siècle Paris salon.

The poetry of courtly love was explored in a talk by Dr. Roseann Runte, newly appointed president of Old Dominion University, and a specialist in French poetry. Dr. Runte explained that to be a lover who is pale, not too robust, is a mark of beauty. The lover is vulnerable, consumed by the flames of love. Art can improve on nature.

Duparc,along with Fauré, is regarded as one on the finest composers of French mélodie. His life was completely caught up in the cause of French music. Yet, there are only 17 of his songs in existence, written between 1868 and 1884, prior to his 36th year. He died in 1933, having lived for another 48 years without writing another note. A student of César Franck, Duparc has achieved international renown with a small but very powerful body of work.

Reynaldo Hahn was a conductor and critic as well as a composer. Most of his songs exude great charm. Hahn is not well-known today outside France, but in his day he was very popular among the Parisian salons, often accompanying his own songs. Hahn composed over sixty mélodies.

Hahn wrote and spoke in French. However, his first language was Spanish and his surname was German. His mother was Venezuelan and his father was born in Hamburg.

Emcee Agnes Fuller Wynne introduced the program which she had organized with pianist Tom Marshall. The first two songs were sung by Patricia Rublein, soprano: Hahn's Fetes galantes (the givers of serenades) and Duparc's Phidyle, a song with a long intensive lovely sound, very demanding of the singer's vocal range and executed to perfection by Patsy.

Didi Granger, soprano, sang Soupir by Duparc, which he dedicated to his mother. In the song a lover waits for the absent beloved, staying open, while the lover is long gone.

With a voice especially suited in size and sweetness of tone to art song, Karen Scott sang L'invitation au voyage, text by Baudelaire and music by Hahn, and Paysage (a landscape) by Duparc. Though I don't speak French, a fluent speaker visiting for the first time commented on Karen's accurate pronunciation.

In addition to the piece that leads this article, noted above, mezzo-soprano Pam Burdett also sang Exstase by Duparc, well pleasing the audience.

Phyllis Hunter, soprano, with control and in beautiful voice sang three Hahn songs. A Chloris is a song dear to Tom Marshall's heart. Tom is a harpsichordist and the piano accompaniment is reminiscent of a Baroque piece. The collaboration of these two artists greatly pleased this reviewer. L'heure exquise (la lune blanche, white moon), and Si mes vers avient des ailes (If my verses had wings) concluded Phyllis' set.

The musical part of the program concluded with Jay Taylor singing Hahn's Quand je fus pris au pavillon (when in her pavillion I lost my heart), a light- hearted text set appropriately.

A word about class and courage. As Jay finished the song he critiqued his performance and found it lacking. "I'd like to do that again. It just didn't work." He was correct and the second time through it did work. Bravo Jay!

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