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Mélodie - French Art Song: Overview

The history leading up to mélodie?

Descending from the troubadour traditions, and the romance, Mélodie is said to begin with Berlioz and end with Poulenc. 130 years.

Where did this trend come from?

Schubert published his lieder in France and it became very popular and spread throughout the country which was one of the main causes of the rise of mélodie. Another factor was the poets who were writing in a new style which resulted in new ways to set the new style of poetry to music.

The first mélodie written was Berlioz'z Les nuit d'été (1841) and although its compositional style clung closely to the tradition of the romance, he was the first to call them mélodie.

Most popular and influential Mélodie poets:

Victor Hugo

Théophile Gautier

Charles Baudelaire

Paul Verlaine

Artur Rimbaud


Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869)

Composed around 50 songs, orchestrated more than half of his songs.

Les nuit d'été (1841)

Poet: Théophile Gautier

Collection of 6 melodies

Was composed first for piano accompaniment, later arranged for orchestra.

La Mort d'Ophelie (1842)

Poet: Shakespeare


Originally composed for voice and piano, then later revised the work for chorus (sopranos and altos) and orchestra or piano and included it in his Op. 18 collection Tristia (Sad Things), which was published in 1848.


Charles Gounod (1818 - 1893)

In addition to being the leading composer of French Grand Opera, Gounod composed about 200 songs, was influenced by Schubert, chopin, and Mendelssohn. Gounod was always careful about word setting and his best songs were written before 1870.

Sérénade (1857)

Poet: Victor Hugo


Italianate bel canto vocal line.

L'absent (1876)

Poet: Gounod


Was written as an apology to his wife. It is his best known song.


Jules Massenet (1842 - 1912)

His Poeme de souvenir is the FIRST SONG CYCLE IN FRANCE. He composed over 200 songs. His compositional style was influenced by Gounod but with greater refinement, as well as influence from Schumann.

Poéme de souvenir (1878)

Poet: Paul Armand Silvestre

* First Song Cycle in France

Poéme d'hiver (1882)

Poet: Paul Armand Silvestre

Collection of 5 melodies


Gabrielle Faure (1842 - 1912)

HIs melodies begin to express a broader range of emotions and greater variety of musical texture than previous mélodie compositions, which inspired new techniques in song composition.

Claire de lune (1887)

Poet: Paul Verlaine


La bonne chanson (1892 -94)

Poet: Paul Verlaine

9 Song cycle


Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

Debussy was influenced by art and literature of the day: Impressionist painters, symbolist poets. He was interested in Russian and Javanese and his compositions contain those aspects. His most satisfying songs settings are those of Verlaine.

Mandoline (1882)

Poet: Paul Verlaine


Ariette Oubliées (1885-87)

Poet: Paul Verlaine

6 Song Cycle

Fêtes gallantes I (1892)

Poet: Paul Verlaine

3 song cycle: En sourdine - Fantoches - Claire de lune

Fêtes gallantes II (1904)

Poet: Paul Verlaine

3 song cycle: Les Ingénus - Le Faune - Colloque sentimental


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