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Pierre Louÿs, by Henri Bataille*

*Félix-Henri Bataille (b. 4 April 1872 in Nîmes, France, d. 2 March 1922 in Rueil-Malmaison) was a French dramatist and poet. His works were extremely popular between 1900 and the start of World War I.  (Wikipedia)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

*Félix Nadar, the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1 April 1820, Paris – 23 March 1910), had many talents.  For instance, he was a ballonist.  However, he is remembered by most as a great photographer.

Claude-Achille Debussy (22 August 1862 – 25 March 1918) is, arguably, the most prominent French composer of the late nineteenth century.  He was extremely innovative.  According to Wikipedia, he was a “crucial figure in the transition to the modern era in Western music, [and] he remains one of the most famous and influential of all composers.” (Wikipedia)

When I was researching Pierre LouÿsLes Chansons de Bilitis, who may be the Greek poet Sappho, I discovered more than Barbier’s erotic illustrations.  The famous Claude Debussy had written music for twelve of Bilitis’s songs.

The Story is as follows…

During the winter of 1900-1901, Claude Debussy was asked by writer Pierre Louÿs to compose music for a public reading of twelve of Louÿs’ Chansons de Bilitis.  Debussy composed music to be performed by a rather unusual combination of instruments: two flutes, two harps and a celesta.

The score was not published at the time the music was composed.  In fact, the music was played only once during the composer’s lifetime, on 7 February 1901.  The autograph partition was then given to Pierre Louÿs, but the manuscript vanished.

However, there remained enough of the autograph partition for French composer, conductor and pianist Pierre Boulez to complete Debussy’s composition.  Debussy’s work was therefore performed again on 10 April 1954 during a concert of the Domaine Musical, a concert society established by Pierre Boulez in Paris.

Yet, Debussy’s composition remained in manuscript form until a score, prepared by Arthur Hoérée (1897-1986), a Belgian composer, was published in 1971.  Hoérée composed music for several films.

For lovers of Debussy’s music, hearing the following may prove a transcendental experience.  Debussy is a giant.

As for this blogger, she is now leaving Barbier behind as dealing with his entourage is leading her away from the blogs she is working on: Quebec.  There is more on Bilitis. Yet may I say that, although Bilitis knew Sappho and although the songs are attributed to Bilitis, Sappho was the greater poet.  What if the Songs of Bilitis meant: the songs Bilitis sang?  Well, it’s a mystery and mysteries can be convenient.

For more information on Bilitis, you may wish to visit Badaboomblog, a site operated by a French WordPress colleague.

I hope sincerely that you will enjoy Debussy’s / Hoérée’s music to accompany Les Chansons de Bilitis and wish you a lovely weekend.

© Micheline Walker
August 4th, 2012