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Lithograph by Grégoire et Deneux after Nicolas-Eustache Maurin (1799-1850). Paris, c.1840.

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Alphonse de LAMARTINE (1790-1869)

March 2019

(b.Mâcon, Burgundy, 1 October 1790;d.Paris, 28 February 1869)

Statesman, poet, novelist and historian, Lamartine is an important figure in 19th-century French history.  He died on 28 February 1869 and we show here a few items from the Museum’s collection to demonstrate his influence on French romantic music.

Le Lac from Lamartine’s Méditations Poétiques, his first poetry collection, published in 1820, was one of the first to receive a musical setting.  This was from Louis Niedermeyer, a Swiss-born composer, living in Geneva at the time of its publication (1821) and finding himself famous on his move to Paris two years later.  Music was itself an important influence on Lamartine and later settings from the same collection are by composers including Berlioz, Gounod, Félicien David, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Lalo and Debussy.

Liszt befriended Lamartine during his formative years in Paris (1823-1833) and his first mature piano work (1834) is named after the latter’s second important published collection Harmonies Poétiques et Réligieuses (1830).  Eighteen years later Liszt  gave the title again to a ten-movement suite, using titles of individual poems for some of the movements and quoting their opening stanzas.  In 1845 he actually proposed to Lamartine’s ward and niece Countess Valentine de Cessiat but was rejected (as were other suitors; she in fact married her uncle 18 months before his death).  The symphonic poem Les Préludes and the Consolations for piano are among other titles deriving from Lamartine.

A handful of operas based on Lamartine’s novels achieved little success, though Fior d’Aliza by Victor Massé (after Graziella) was seen by the poet himself at the Opéra Comique in 1866.  Benjamin Godard’s Jocelyn (Brussels and Paris, 1888) was remembered for its famouse Berceuse until well into the twentieth century.  Click here to listen to Victor Capoul’s 1905 recording.