I grew up (mostly) in Maryland and memorized as much E.A. Poe as I could get my hands on. There was a statue of him near my house, which may have deepened the kinship. Poe was also a contemporary of the early Romantic composers Chopin and Schumann, whose music I adored growing up and continue to revere to this day. It’s said that Poe once attempted to contact Chopin when it was rumored that the latter may have been weighing a concert tour of America. If only we had correspondence between these two…. Chopin, in his frail health, never made the trip. The two men both died within eight days of one another in 1849.
With influences like this, it’s not difficult to trace a forward affinity with Baudelaire. The beautifying of the arcane and the mysterious, the worship and ritual of the religious while free of dogma, the trust in high ideals such as love and fidelity to transcend any and all barriers (including death): these are concepts that Poe immortalized and Baudelaire expanded.
Chansons de Diane, written in 2008, is my third cycle of songs on Baudelaire’s poetry. Unlike the previous two which are written for the standard soprano and piano combination, these are for soprano, tenor and piano. Song cycles for multiple singers are somewhat and surprisingly rare. I’ve always loved how Schumann mined the possibilities in his Spanische Liebeslieder, Op. 138:
Or how effortlessly Fauré juxtaposed two voices in his Two Duets, Op. 10:
For me, there must be a reason to have two singers – an explicit purpose in the poetry. In the four poems gathered for this cycle, we see two radically different characters. The soprano represents the Roman goddess Diana: a huntress, beautiful beyond measure, virginal, war-like and lethal. The tenor represents (in many ways) the poet himself, worshiping at Diana’s altar. Thus the soprano role is to look down from a great height while the tenor yearns to elevate off the ground. Despite the immense distance between them, a pure and faithful spirit (in the poet’s eyes) can transcend any barrier.
Benjamin C.S. Boyle
Benjamin’s Chansons de Diane will appear on the program for the grand finale of Lyric Fest’s 15th-anniversary season on Sunday, May 6th at 3 p.m. at Church of he Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. Click here for tickets.