Du salon au boulevard. Un aspect de la mélodie française entre 1870 et 1930

Yves Rassendren


While the Germanic Lied draws its roots from popular tradition and evolves towards the Kunstlied, French melody, born in refinement, reflects a lighter vein at the turn of the 20th century.

In the post-war context after 1870, French music seeks an authentically nationalist aesthetic, free of Germanic influence. The nature of melody becomes an important area of exploration and research for composers. Inspired by romantic poetry but also by the literary movements of the late 19th century – Parnassianism and Symbolism – the genre appeals to an intellectual and artistic elite. Melody thus flourishes in concerts and in private Parisian salons.

The historic and social context gives rise to a whole repertoire of political and nationalist songs that contain an element of banter or gouaille. Attracted by the songs of cabaret or boulevard, some composers, seeking to break out of the narrow confines of ‘salon’ melody propose a new direction for the genre.

Melodies explore the humorous ironic, light-hearted or vulgar domains, occasionally verging on the sensual or bawdy. These works set to music unpretentious texts, occasionally written by the composers themselves.

Among the composers of the ‘erudite tradition’ who are attracted by this light-hearted and popular vein, the most notable are Chabrier, Satie, Hahn and Poulenc, while several others adopt this trend more intermittently. The nature of the texts, the venues where they are performed and the popularity of the singers contribute to this renaissance of the melody genre.

This article therefore evokes a little-known aspect of the development of melody in France after 1870.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.15203/ATeM_2021_2.05


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