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The songs of Gustave Charpentier

Ruth Iona Foley, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Gustave Charpentier, 1860–1956, is best remembered for his opera, Louise, which premièred in 1900 and received its thousandth performance shortly after his death. As a young man, Charpentier was a talented student at the Conservatoire de Paris, but was also remembered as a radical. He studied composition under Massenet, and at the age of 27 won the “Grand Prix de Rome” for his cantata, Didon. Charpentier loved residing in the district of Paris called Montmartre, where he mixed with bohemians, poets, anarchists, and artists. Through his background he formulated individual thinking and a unique musical style. ^ Charpentier's skill as a song-writer is his ability to give dramatic and pictoral vividness to poetry through the full use of harmonic resources available to late nineteenth-century composers. He incorporates a great deal of chromatic freedom into his writing, while remaining within a tonal framework. Although Charpentier wasn't an innovator in this genre, his songs exhibit a freedom of expression that gives them a trademark of individuality. ^ Many of Charpentier's songs included chorus parts and orchestra, and were intended for large gatherings, rather than soloist and accompanist in a drawing room setting. In doing so, Charpentier embarked on an individual pathway, and was valiant in his political and artistic endeavors by writing for “le Peuple” (the people). ^ Charpentier composed some 20 songs in three groups; Poèmes chantés, Les Fleurs du Mal, and Impressions Fausses between the years 1885 and 1895. Unfortunately, his songs have been too under-rated, and sadly, even remain obscure. ^ The purpose of this document is to provide justification for Gustave Charpentier's songs to be recognized as having artistic merit through musical enhancement of the poetry. This document provides a background of the composer, the songs, the poets and symbolist poetry. The songs are grouped together according to poet; each poem is briefly analyzed for thematic, figurative, and rhetorical content; and each song is extensively analyzed for musical style and content. ^

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Recommended Citation

Foley, Ruth Iona, "The songs of Gustave Charpentier" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9967370.