When all is lost and life makes no sense anymore

Frozen. © Charles Thibo

Hours full of pain – not exactly a selling argument! But this is the title the composer Gabriel Dupont gave a piano cycle he wrote in 1904: Les Heures Dolentes. If you listen to the recording by Stéphane Lemelin, you will at once hear that title is well deserved and that no one ever has described in a more beautiful way the slowly passing, monotonous hours when you try to recover from really bad news, these moments when you feel paralyzed, unable to speak, unable to move, when you stare in front of you aimlessly, absent-minded. This singular mood when all seems lost and life makes no sense anymore.

Haunted by the thought of death

We have briefly met this composer when I discussed another piano cycle “La Maison dans les Dunes” and this time we will get to know him a little better. Dupont did not live long – from 1878 to 1914. He died from tuberculosis and was said to be obsessed by death. As a matter of fact, he started to write this piece when he was recovering from a first bout of this disease. One can only hope that he found comfort in music, and the dark subtones that characterize the different parts are easily understood in the context of Dupont’s personal tragedy.

He studied first with his father, an organist, and later with Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatory. He wrote three stage works, duets, a sonata for violin and piano, two piano cycles and a piece for piano and string quartet. In 1901, Dupont won the second place when competing for the Rome Prize, behind André Caplet but ahead of Maurice Ravel. However his short life prevented him from developing a larger body of works, reaching a wider audience and securing himself a more prominent place in music history. Already in an article dated 1921, he was referred to as “un musicien trop oublié” (a musician too often forgotten).

Loyal to the traditionalists

During his life time he achieved a certain fame especially through his stage works. The operas “La Cabrera” (1905) and “La Glu” (1908) were acclaimed by the French press who saw in him the successor to Georges Bizet and Massenet. Michel Fleury, writing for the French music magazine “Cadences”, says Dupont remained attached to the traditional forms but managed to convey new messages while using the tried and tested language of the late Romantic period embodied for example by Robert Schumann and Richard Wagner.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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