Hellenism and eroticism in the French mélodie

Piano Poetry Pantelis Politics


“Chloris and Zephyr” by Jacopo Amigoni

The mélodie, the French art song that flourished between 1880-1920, deserves a very special place among the Hellenisms of classical music. The exquisite songs of Chabrier, Chausson, Debussy, Duparc, Fauré, Hahn, Poulenc, Ravel, Satie and others often drew poetically and musically on Greek sources, themes, and codes to stage an ethereal, rococo or symbolist antiquity, full of elegiac romance, melancholic pleasure, limpid elegance, and incandescent colorism.

An outstanding and famous example is “À Chloris” (1916), whose 2015 recording by soprano Véronique Gens and pianist Susan Manoff has been garnering much well-deserved praise.  The Modernist aesthete composer Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) took an archaic Greek idyll by Baroque libertine poet Théophile de Viau (1590-1626) and set it to music by drawing on the striding bass line of the “Air on the G-string” by Baroque religious composer J. S. Bach (1685-1750). In this song the collaborative piano…

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