Henri Duparc: The Complete Songs


Despite his seemingly meager output of only seventeen songs, Henri Duparc remains among the top composers of the French repertoire, known for his beautiful melodies and melodic and harmonic subtleties. His intricate piano accompaniments boast complexity and often dense, orchestral-like textures. Known for his severe self-criticism, he constantly revised and polished existing works, even destroying some or refusing to let them be published.

Duparc studied with César Franck at the Jesuit College of Vaugirard, later developing a sensitivity to the poetic text combined with melodic inspiration and a harmonic style akin to Richard Wagner’s, who he met at Weimar in 1869. His collection of songs, written between 1868 and 1884, included eight with orchestral accompaniment. In these songs, Duparc enlarged the French song into a scena, or opera-like scene, and brought to it a poetic sense of musical prosody and a symphonic conception of form.

Duparc set the poems of living composers at the time - all from the Parnassian school, a group of French poets who took inspiration from the ideals of the French Pléiade poets of the sixteenth century. The Parnassians were more concerned with perfection of form than with feeling or emotion, and so their poetry is elegant but highly impersonal in style. Among these poets set by Duparc were Lahor, Sully-Prudhomme, Baudelaire, Silvestre, and de Lisle.

In 1885, a mental illness, diagnosed at the time as neurasthenia, caused him abruptly to cease composing at age 37. He devoted himself to his family and his other passions, drawing and painting. But increasing vision loss after the turn of the century eventually led to total blindness. He destroyed most of his music, leaving fewer than 40 works to posterity.

To open its fourth season, CSI showcases Duparc’s entire song collection in a single evening, providing a visceral experience in tracing this unique composer’s style over the course of his relatively short compositional period.