The insatiable thirst for everything which lies beyond, and which life reveals, is the most living proof of our immortality. (Charles Baudelaire)
Henri Duparc (1848-1933).
There are composers, and then there is Duparc. There is French song and then there is Duparc. Even if all he wrote was this one song, his name would be immortal. What a curious story: a highly original and gifted composer with a nationalist passion for French music so passionate that he became one of the founder members of a society of French Composers. He wrote a handful of songs, regarded as the definitive arrival of the French Artsong. Then at 37, he abruptly ceases to compose and destroys every single one of his compositions he could lay his hands on. The last 48 years of his life he spent in musical silence, tending to his family, painting a bit, taking refuge in his religious faith.
Graham Johnson writes: “He is a prince amongst composers, admitted into the royal enclosure…” [Johnson, Graham & Stokes, Richard: “A French Song Companion”, Oxford University Press, New York, 2000, P.164]
He went to Lourdes, hoping to find a cure of a mysterious condition which killed all desire to create. A mental illness, diagnosed at the time as “neurasthenia“, caused him abruptly to cease composing at age 37, in 1885. The fact that he went blind as well, seems a terrible price to pay for the glory of the 17 or so songs which survived.
I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy (Charles Baudelaire)
Charles Pierre Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a French poet who produced notable work as an essayist, art critic, and pioneering translator of Edgar Allan Poe. Inspired by a brief but intense love for the actress Marie Daubrun, his most famous work, Les Fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil), expresses the changing nature of beauty in modern, industrializing Paris during the 19th century. Baudelaire’s highly original style of prose-poetry influenced a whole generation of poets including Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud and Stéphane Mallarmé among many others. He is credited with coining the term “modernity” (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.
The poem is remarkably un-erotic in direct meaning – given the subtext – but a voluptuous, sensuous quality pervades. The poet is attempting to seduce the object of his desire. The voyage promises the pleasures of the eye, ear, mind, and yes, certainly the body as well. The journey the lover is being invited on is the fulfillment of their dreams, as much as any physical place.
~~~~ My child, my sister, Think of the rapture To go there, live together, Love at leisure, Love and death in the country that looks like you.
From the opening notes, we are on the water. The boat is already sailing.The quasi-tremolandos remind one briefly of Shéhérazade, Ravel’s oriental creature of delight and mystery, still to arrive in 1898. But these are measured semi-quavers, not quivers.
There is an old-world restraint and grandeur about this journey. This is not an impetuous young lover ready to whisk is beloved away to some foreign shore where they will have make passionate love under gawdy tropical flowers, living on fruit and sunlight. This is an older lover, already aware that his beloved’s eyes are hides treachery, that their love is already doomed to die. He compares the changeable landscape to the emotions of his beloved – hardly a recipe for a lifetime of marital bliss. The doom and depth of emotion in those first few bars are reminiscent of Fauré’s Automne, but in particular it is the fall on the second bar, to the augmented 6th that exerts an emotional pull unique to Duparc. Wagnerian without the megalomania, it sets us up for a journey unlike any we have been on before.
As the poet imagines the joys of them living together, the dark C Minor gives way to a ray of C Major light breaking through the clouds.
The poet describes how they will live: to love endlessly and to die. “Aimer à loisir, Aimer et mourir” Duparc creates a melodic cell as instantly memorable as it is encapsulating of the dichotomy it is expressing. Languorously stretching up to the high G, it droops back down to the D.
~~~~ Wet suns, These scrambled skies that hold such mysterious charms for my spirit, of your treacherous eyes, shining through their tears…
Extraordinarily expressive harmonies describe the unsettled skies, and the appeal they hold for the poet is partly because of the very insecurity – both of the physical landscape, as much as the “treacherous eyes” of his beloved. As he describes tears running from her eyes, the key changes again to an illuminated C Major.
~~~~ There all is order and beauty, Luxury, calm and voluptuousness.
Here follows Un peu plus vite, a passage that seems to suspend all movement. The poet is creating an idealised vision of the life they will live, suspended forever in a state of love and bliss, where all is Luxe, calme et volupté, variously translated as Luxury, calm and voluptuousness, or allure, Luxury, calm and pleasure or even beauty, Luxury, peace, and pleasure. Chords spread across the entire keyboard are held, while the voice abandons its augmented intervals and sensual extensions above the stave, and trails off to “quasi-parlando” recitative on the same note -first the higher C, then dropping to the lower G, as the poet descends into an inner world. But is it a dream? Perhaps a memory? A wish?
~~~~ See on the canals sleep these vessels whose mood is those of wandering vagabondes; This is to satisfy your slightest desire, they come from the ends of the world.
As if opening his eyes from this exquisite dream, the rolling semi-quavers describe what he sees:
Since Duparc leaves out verse 2 of Baudelaire’s poem, it isn’t immediately clear if the poet and object of his affection are still standing looking at the boats that would take them to the Orient, or if he is describing what they see once they arrive. The rolling semi-quavers of the opening recreate the shimmering surface of the water, in which the boats are reflected that have traveled across the vast oceans to fulfill her every wish. This passage is truncated and moves into one of the trickiest passages to play smoothly and evenly.
~~~~ The setting suns clothe the fields, the canals, the whole city, in hyacinth and gold; The world is asleep in warm light.
The notes shimmer like the most effective Impressionist paintings, and this time, when the warm light of C Major beaks though, it is a real glowing Fortissimo.
Amid the filigree of fantasy, Duparc combines two wonderful thoughts he had earlier
The theme about loving for ever, and dying (“Aimer à loisir, Aimer et mourir” ) is combined with the repetition of the description of their perfect love. (“Luxe, calme et volupté”)
In one gesture, Duparc creates a Voyage that is both physical and spiritual. The journey is both internal and external. Like Johannes Vermeer’s Astronomer, the journey is undertaken without leaving the study. As if he can see the entire trajectory of the relationship, before even embarking on it.
“L’invitation au Voyage“, from Les Fleurs du Mal, in 1. Spleen et Idéal, no. 53 (Original French Text by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), English translation by Albert Combrink)
Duparc sets only verses 1 and 3 of the original complete poem, found HERE.
It is virtually impossible to translate this poem successfully: Literal translations lose the essential rhythmic beauty of the poem, and poetic versions lose the essence of the meaning. Since I use this article for my personal study, I have erred on the side of the literal. Greater literary minds than myself can tackle this problem. I wish merely to make the meaning of the words as clear as possible for the student of this great work. There are however many translations available online. I refer you to a very meaningful versions by J.K. Ellis, William Aggeler and Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose creative translations add immensely to one’s understanding of the poem.
Verse 1 (French)
Mon enfant, ma sœur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble,
Aimer à loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble.
Les soleils mouillés
De ces ciels brouillés
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
De tes traîtres yeux,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Verse 1 (English)
My child, my sister,
Think of the rapture
To go there, live together,
Love at leisure,
Love and death
in the country that looks like you.
These scrambled skies
For my spirit the charms
Of your treacherous eyes,
Shining through their tears.
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, calm and voluptuousness.
Verse 3 (In Fench)
Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde;C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or;
Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière!
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Verse 3 (In English)
See on the canals
Sleep these vessels
Whose mood is those of wandering vagabondes;
This is to satisfy
Your slightest desire
They come from the ends of the world.
The suns which are setting
Clothe the fields,
The canals, the whole city,
In hyacinth and gold;
The world is asleep
In warm light!
There all is order and beauty,
Luxury, calm and
Download Free Sheet Music (PDF) of L’invitation au Voyage by Heni Duparc:
L’invitation au Voyage by Heni Duparc in C Minor (PDF of Original Key)
Some landmark recordings of Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage:
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Gérard Souzay (Fench Baritone)
and possibly Dalton Baldwin
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Jonas Kaufmann (German Tenor) and Helmut Deutsch
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Hugues Cuenod (French Tenor) and Geoffrey Parssons
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Diana Damrau (Soprano) and Xavier de Mestre (HARP)
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Barbara Hendicks (Sopano) and the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Jessye Norman (Soprano) and Geoffrey Parssons
Duparc’s L’invitation au Voyage: Nelly Miricioiu (Soprano) and David Harper
Read more about Charles Baudelaire HERE.
The Société Nationale de Musique:
The Société Nationale de Musique was founded on February 25, 1871 to promote French music and to allow young composers to present their music in public. The motto was “Ars gallica“. It was founded by Romain Bussine and Camille Saint-Saëns, who shared the presidency, and early members included César Franck, Ernest Guiraud, Jules Massenet, Jules Garcin, Gabriel Fauré, Alexis de Castillon, Henri Duparc, Théodore Dubois, and Paul Taffanel. It was conceived in reaction to the tendency in French music to favor vocal and operatic music over orchestral music, and to further the cause of French music in contrast to the Germanic tradition. “They were determined to unite in their efforts to spread the gospel of French music and to make known the works of living French composers. . . . According to their statutes . . . their intention was to act ‘in brotherly unity, with an absolute forgetfulness of self'” [Vallas, Léon. César Franck. Tr. by Hubert J. Foss from La véritable histoire de César Franck (1949). London: Harap, 1951. Reprinted Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1973, P.135]
L’invitation au Voyage: other settings
The magnificent peom was imortalised by (Marie Eugène) Henri (Fouques) Duparc (1848-1933) who wrote “L’invitation au Voyage” in 1870, published 1894, stanzas 1,3.
Other settings of this poem include:
~ Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, 1918.
~ Emmanuel Chabrier (1841-1894) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, 1870.
~ Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, 1895, published 1895, from Les Fleurs du Mal, no. 4.
~ Jules Cressonois (1823-1883) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, 1863.
~ Alphons Diepenbrock (1862-1921) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, 1913.
~ Benjamin Louis Paul Godard (1849-1895) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, op. 114, published c1889, stanzas 1,3 [voice and piano], Paris, Durand & Schoenewerck
~ Aleksandr Tikhonovich Gretchaninov (1864-1956) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, op. 48 no. 2, from Les Fleurs du Mal, no. 2, note: also set in Russian
~ Lucien Hillemacher (1860-1909) and by Paul Hillemacher (1852-1933) , “L’invitation au Voyage”, from Vingt Mélodies, no. ?
~ Georges Adolphe Hüe (1858-1948) , “L’invitation au Voyage”
Hi! Thank you for your very detailed beautiful analysis! I wanted to make a slight revision of your translation (I am French) In the first stanza it is “Aimer et mourir” which means “Loving and dying” not “Love and death”. Cheers!
I welcome all comments and improvements! This is a labour of love and part of my study of these works in preparing performances. Every person that gives input adds another layer. Merci beaucoup!