L’Invitation au Voyage

Henri Duparc

DuParc’s “L’invitation au voyage,” composed in 1870, is a setting of two of three verses of the Symbolist poet Beaudelaire’s famous poem describing his love of the countryside in Holland, which he described in “Small Prose Poems,” as “ a singular country, drowned in the mists of our North, and could be called the East of the West, the China of Europe” and the longing  of a man wishing to touch his lover.  At this time, Beaudelaire was in love with an actress Marie Daubrun, and this poem describes a mystical trip growing in his mind, which finds them both in an exotic and perfect world.

The poem first appeared in a collection of 100 poems titled Fleurs du Mal (the Flowers of Evil), a publication which caused sensation and uproar. After a trial lead by the French lawyer Ernest Pinard (prosecutor of Gustave Flaubert) on August 20, 1857, six poems were immediately removed on grounds of obscenity…dealing with lesbian themes and sado-masochism… and Beaudelaire was fined 300 francs for “offending public morals…religious morals, and good customs….which the judges noted “necessarily lead to the excitement of the senses by a crude realism and public decency.” (quote from Pericles Lewis in Cambridge Introduction to Modernism.)

The poems were republished in 1861, and grouped into six parts. L’invitation au Voyage came from Part I “Spleen et ideal” which focuses explicitly on sexual and romantic love: and all the problems that can, and often do, result. The poet explained: “There are in every man at all times two simultaneous impulses-one toward God, the other toward Satan.”

Duparc provides a soft, slowly moving melody which remains essentially  the same in both sections, but the accompaniment changes, evoking the sensuality, ecstasy, and emotion of the text. Glen Watkins in Soundings: Music in the Twentieth Century noted that “DuParc’s musical speech which characteristically engages a rich Wagnerian palette softened by static pedal figures is a natural for Beaudelaire’s dream world. The note of Orientalism, the reveries steeped in drugs, and the imaginary voyage were captured in a new accent” in this setting.

The poem reads:

My child, my sister

Think about the softness

To go there to live together.

Love at leisure,

Love and die

The country that resembles you!

The watery suns of those cloudy skies

For my spirit the charms so mysterious

Of your treacherous eyes

Shining through their tears.

There, all is order and beauty

Luxury, calm and voluptuousness

Gleaming furniture, polished by the years

Would decorate our room

The rarest flowers, mingling their fragrance

The faint scent of amber

The rich ceilings, the deep mirrors

Oriental splendor all speak there

At the core secret, its sweet native tongue.

There all is order and beauty

Luxury, calm and voluptuousness

See on the canals, sleep these vessels

Whose mood is vagabond;

This is to satisfy

Your slightest desire

They come from the ends of the world.

The setting suns clothe the fields, the canals, the entire city,

In hyacinth and gold

The world falls asleep in a warm light.

There, all is order and beauty

Luxury, calm and voluptuousness.

Duparc also set Beaudelaire’s “La vie anterieur” which was published in 1902.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

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