49. Gustave Charpentier [365 Composers for 2013]


18th February – Gustave Charpentier


Charpentier (25th June 1860 – 18th February 1956) is our composer for 18th February, to mark the day of his death.
Nationality: French
Lifespan: 95 years
Genre: 20th Century
Education: Paris Conservatoire
Fame Ranking: 5

Charpentier lived a long life, but only really composed music until he was in his fifties – after that he busied himself with organising concerts and conducting.

The son of a baker, Charpentier did not receive a formal musical education at an early age. Nevertheless he was finally accepted into the prestigious Paris Conservatoire at the age of 21, after a spell at Lille Conservatoire. In 1887, Charpentier won the much-coveted Prix de Rome, which entitled him to go and study at the Villa Medici in Rome. Whilst there, he produced several compositions and was evidently deeply moved by his surroundings. His orchestral piece “Impressions d’Italie”, is a five-part ¬†travelogue inspired by Italian landscapes. He also began working on what was to become his masterpiece – the opera “Louise”, completed in 1900.

“Louise” is an example of “verismo” opera – meaning “realistic” – this is in contrast to opera themes about magic, gods or historical story-lines. Verismo opera frequently presented sordid and violent subject matters and often focused on the underworld of the lower classes at the and of the 19th century. It was a very popular style for several years. “Louise” is a shop girl living in contemporary Paris, and the opera follows her life, loves and desire for freedom. Charpentier followed up “Louise” with a sequel, “Juilen”, thought to be the second part of a planned operatic trilogy. “Julien”, premiered in 1913, was a relative flop however, and part three never materialised. In fact, Charpentier seemed to lose his creative impulse altogether at this point in his life, and wrote very little music from then on.

In 1936 “Louise” was adapted for the silver screen, and Charpentier collaborated with the film makers to work on the score. He was particularly interested in the innovative technology of movie-making, and gramophones.

Here is one of the most well-known arias from “Louise” – “Depuis le Jour”:


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