André Caplet – Forét pour chant et orchestre
(b. Le Havre (Seine-Martoime), 22 November 1878 – d. Neuilly-sur-Sene (Hauts-de-Seine), 22 April 1925).
Considered to be his best song, André Caplet’s Forét pour chant et orchestre is one of four songs from the collection, Vieux Coffret (The Old Caskett). It sets four poems by Rémy de Gourmont (b. Bazoches-au-Houlme (Orne), 4 April 1858, d. Paris, 27 September 1915): Songe (Dream), Berceuse (Lullaby), In una selua oscura (In a dark forest), and Forét (Forest). The songs were written for voice and piano, as well as orchestral versions for three of the four songs (the second only exists as a version for piano and voice).
Caplet is not well-known for his songs, despite this gem. He was trained at the Paris Conservatoire from 1896, and won first prize of the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1901, at the young age of 22, with Cantata Myrrha. This was notable as Ravel missed out on the prize in favour of Caplet. Caplet was a diverse musician. He was highly regarded by Claude Debussy. They met in 1907 and clearly had a meeting of minds and aesthetic as Debussy then engaged Caplet as his proof reader of choice. Debussy considered Caplet to have “solid good taste” (Nichols, BBC). Moreover, testament to Debussy’s trust in Caplet’s musical ability is seen most notably in the fact that Caplet completed a number of orchestrations for Debussy’s compositions, including La Boîte à joujoux (1920) and Pagodes (1923). As well as an orchestrator, Caplet was a renowned conductor. In 1911 he conducted Debussy’s Le Martyre de Saint Sebastien, a work which also includes some orchestrations by him. In 1910 he was appointed conductor to the Boston Opera Company, which is demonstrative of his international recognition. His conducting had begun when he replaced Leroux at the Théâtre de la Porte St Martin in 1896. As such, it is clear that his career balanced conducting, composition as well as orchestration. He even worked briefly as a timpanist in the Orchestre Colonne.
Caplet’s career was greatly impacted by the First World War. He returned from American to serve as a sergeant in the French infantry between 1914 and 1917, but regrettably, as so many, he was injured and also suffered from being gassed. Once he was demobilized from the army in 1919 he imbued his music with his new found depth of faith, writing beautiful settings of the Lord’s Prayer, as well as the Hail Mary and the Creed. As Barbara Kelly notes, his “response to the trauma and illness causes by active service in the Great War was to turn to a public expression of his faith” (Kelly, 2013, 194). Due to his injuries, and notably the effect of the gas, Caplet could not focus on his conducting (although he did do a short stint at the Paris Opera). Rather, he set to focusing his efforts on composition, and it was from this period that his most famous work came, Miroirde de Jésus (1923).
Published by Durand as a work for piano and voice in 1918, then as a work for voice and orchestra in 1922, Forét pour chant et orchestre can be read to show the increased sense of emotional expression in Caplet’s post-war compositions. The poem talks of what the forest must have seen over the years, with couples walking and talking, specifically conversations which share intimate emotions and secrets. Memory is a theme, when the forest is called on to remember a particular couple. It gives rise to a sense of nostalgia which was so prevalent in the interwar period. The metaphor of “colour” (Stanza 2, line 4 “couleur de rêves”; Stanza 3, line 2 “au sein de ta verdure”; Stanza 4, line 4 “tes vertes fougères”) is used to express a wide range of emotions which seems to be captured by the harp in its texture colours. …
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