Songs By Charles Gounod
Felicity Lott (soprano), Ann Murray (mezzo-soprano), Anthony Rolfe Johnson (tenor)
Charles Gounod and the French mélodie It has often been said that Gounod was the father of the mélodie. This question of paternity would be hotly contested by Berlioz partisans whose hero was undoubtedly a greater visionary and pioneer, not to mention composer. But Gounod succeeded in one important respect where Berlioz’s more revolutionary spirit failed: he built bridges betweeen the past and the future rather than burned them. He entertained the French bourgeoisie but at the same time composed music which was a significant advance on what had gone before in terms of word-setting and harmony. Gounod’s gift for singable melodies enabled him to smuggle art song—a highly born and demanding infant—into the homes and hearts of the French middle class where operatic airs, operetta, romance and chansonette had previously held sway. Although he was not the first to effect a civilized marriage between text and music (music lovers were beginning to be interested in judging vocal music in terms of its expressive subtlety rather than as a mere vehicle for a performer’s virtuosity), Gounod’s role was to show how poetry and music, and vocal line and accompaniment, could all gracefully interact on a level hitherto only found in the German Lied. Gounod acknowledged his debt to Franz Schubert (a composer popular in Paris thanks to the performances of the tenor Adolphe Nourrit) by fashioning independently interesting piano parts for his songs, and also by recognizing that the most beguiling melodies were only the starting point when it came to the overall craft of song composition and performance. The quality of poetry was also taken to be an important factor in this marriage of word and tone and of the inherited romance and the acquired Lied. The child of this union was of enduring beauty; if Gounod was not its parent he was largely responsible for its upbringing.