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It was probably in 1869 that Duparc began this symphonic poem after Lénore, the gothic ballad published by Gottfried August Bürger in 1774 and made popular in France by Gérard de Nerval’s translation: one night, Wilhelm (or his ghost, as we discover by the end of the poem) comes for his beloved Lénore and whisks her away on a headlong ride to death. The work was premiered on 15 May 1875 at the Société Nationale under the baton of  Édouard Colonne, and performed again on 28 October 1877 at Pasdeloup’s Concerts Populaires. After this second performance, Duparc subjected the piece to relentless revision: “I cut out two whole developments to make it easier to digest, and I’m very pleased I did, because it was doubtless those passages that gave the audience an upset stomach. […] I also made numerous alterations to the orchestration for the third time; these are excellent and there is nothing now which is not perfect.” However, later he deemed the result “too Teutonic”, feeling perhaps that he had not distanced himself successfully from his admiration for Wagner or had not sufficiently remodelled the theme of the supernatural ride, so dear to the Romantics. He was in fact competing with Schubert (Le Roi des aulnes), Liszt (Mazeppa), Berlioz (the “Course à l’abîme” from La Damnation de Faust) or even Saint-Saëns (Phaéton). His music is not overly inspired when depicting the actual horseback ride, whose material and content lack originality, but excellent in portraying the desolate mood of the earlier sections: their erratic harmony and convoluted melodic line prove Duparc to be a worthy heir of Liszt.


publication date : 25/09/23

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