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Henri Duparc: Henri Duparc (b. Paris, 21 Jan 1848; d. Mont-de-Marsan, 12 Feb 1933).
Henri Duparc (Marie Eugene Henri Fouques-Duparc) came from a comfortable middle-class family which originated in Brittany, but had long been settled in Paris. He was educated at the Jesuit College of Vaugirard, and it was there that he first made the acquaintance of Cesar Franck, music-master of the college and soon to become the young Henri Duparc's master and mentor in the art of composition. He combined his private studies with Franck and his unenthusiastic reading of Law, and before the Feuilles volantes for piano, published in 1869, he had already completed a violoncello sonata. This was one of several works which he later destroyed, including two pieces performed by the Societe Nationale in 1894, Laendler and Poeme nocturne, of which he preserved part under the title of Aux etoiles. Pasdeloup performed Henri Duparc's Lenore, written in 1875 and founded on Burger's poem of the same name, and the respect which this work inspired may be gauged by the fact that it was arranged by Saint-Saens for two pianos and by Franck himself for piano duet. Henri Duparc formed, with Cahen and Coquard, the original nucleus of enthusiastic Franck-disciples which was be known familiarly as Ma bande a Franck' and was to exercise a strong influence on French musical life between 1870 and 1890. The fellow-student with whom Henri Duparc had most in common was Alexis de Castillon, who died in 1873 from the results of his service in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1 and left a handful of remarkable student-works. These show clearly the influence of Beethoven, and it was his Ninth Symphony which served as a revelation to the young Henri Duparc several years before he made the acquaintance of Wagner's music. This was to be an all but overwhelming experience musically, but it is probable that Henri Duparc, who numbered both the poets Leconte de Lisle and Albert Samain among his friends, was already affected by Wagner's reputation among French writers and painters which preceded by almost a decade his influence on French composers. He was a frequent visitor to Germany, going to Weimar in 1869 and meeting Wagner in Liszt's house. His visits to Bayreuth and Munich (one with Chabrier in 1879) deeply affected not only his musical development but also his understanding of the new movements in other arts. He was an early French admirer of Tolstoi and Ibsen, and he must have been one of the very few admirers of Wagner who, even during the composer's lifetime, regretted all realism in the production of his works and looked forward to what Wieland Wagner achieved only sixty years later. When he broached this subject with the composer himself, after a performance of Die Walk'ure in Munich, the discussion became lively. Henri Duparc wanted no flames in the final scene, only the touching of the rock by Wotan's spear. Wagner himself looked forward to 'steam-jets propelling realistic flames'.
Meanwhile Henri Duparc's literary sympathies showed themselves in the choice of texts for his songs, five of which were published in 1868. He later destroyed three of these, leaving only Soupir and Chanson Triste. This recurrent impulse to anthologise his own output, leaving only the few works in which he felt that he had really succeeded in doing what he wanted as he wanted, revealed a self-critical faculty developed to an almost morbid degree. Following his master, Franck, Henri Duparc demanded of music before all else a strong emotional prompting. 'Je veux etre emu' was the motto which dominated his taste in all the arts and determined the character of his own creation. Is it fanciful to see a link between this extreme emotionalism and the neurasthenia which led him in 1885 to leave Paris and, as it turned out, to abandon composition at the age of thirty-seven?
During the last fifteen years of his life in Paris between 1870 and 1885, he composed a dozen songs; and these, with the earlier Soupir and Chanson, are the sole works on which his reputation rests. Two are settings of his favourite poet Baudelaire; and L'Invitation au voyage may be ranked among the finest of all French songs and, at least until Debussy's Baudelaire settings, uniquely successful in capturing the spirit and quality of a Baudelaire poem. Leconte de Lisle's Phidyle inspired one of Henri Duparc's most ambitious songs, which opens with a modal melody worthy of Faure and closes with a Wagnerian splendour which clearly demands the orchestra. In Theophile Gautier's Lamento the basically strophic setting gives the song a unity diversified by Henri Duparc's scrupulous prosody, which allows the text an importance rare even in French song. Jean Lahor's Extase prompted Henri Duparc to play a joke on his critics and at the same time produce a masterpiece. As he told his fellow-pupil Breville, he deliberately imitated in this song the style of Tristan; and the harmonies of his setting of Thomas Moore's Elegy on the Irish patriot Emmett are in fact equally Wagnerian in character. The hesitant yet forceful accompaniment in his setting of R. de Bonnieres' Le Manoir de Rosemonde plainly originated in Schumann's Dichterliebe, but the obsessive dotted and syncopated rhythm and the explosive violence of the music seem to foreshadow the dramatic miniatures of Hugo Wolf.
In his retirement Henri Duparc consciously sought only solitude and quietness. After Switzerland he lived in the south-west of France for a time at Pau and at Tarbes. As late as 1894 he wrote to his friend Chausson from Monein, in the Basses Pyrenees, that he was working hard. Three years earlier, in 1891, he confessed to Chausson that the combination of severe rheumatism and a torturing neurasthenia ('a single fly is an agony to me') made him long for death. But instead of dying Henri Duparc lived another forty years, a martyr to his nervous hypersensibility and latterly almost completely blind. At first he worked on a projected Roussalka, based on Pushkin, but he eventually burned what he had written. Even his painting, which in 1883 had won the admiration of Harpignies, was to be abandoned and the only record that he left of this long creative silence is to be found in letters to his friends and in a daily journal. In this he noted his reflections on life and, increasingly after his first visit to Lourdes with Claudel and Jammes in 1906, an interior dialogue revealing a profoundly religious nature. His chief correspondent among musicians was Ernest Chausson, the Franck pupil with whom he had most in common. In 1893 he begged Chausson not to concern himself with details of performance in 'the three or four pages of useless music that I have written. It no longer concerns me and I shall not worry about it any more than I should if my poor fat body were also dead and buried.' To Chausson also he confided his difficulty in writing for the piano, speaking of 'pianofortising the kind of orchestral summary' of his accompaniments. His attitude towards the slow decay of his faculties is perhaps best summed up in this passage from his journal. 'The loss of my sight and the deprivation of what has made my whole life- music and painting, but especially music - is such a grief to me that God could only console me for it by giving me Himself: that is what He has done, and far from regretting anything, I thank Him.' Henri Duparc died in 1933 at Mont-de-Marsan in theLandes.
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