RC 43 Clair de lune (“Votre âme est un paysage choisi”)

  • Verlaine, Paul
  • soprano and piano // mezzo-soprano and piano
  • September 24, 1898
  • duration 2:50

Diepenbrock composed Clair de lune (Moonshine) in September 1898. The song was inspired by Fauré’s setting, which he called “very beautiful” in a letter to Charles Smulders. He continued: “The striking text inspired me to set it to music as well; I do not think the two compositions will undermine each other.” (BD III:63). He added later that it was the suggestive power of the poem that had much appealed to him. (BD III:65) Verlaine compares the soul of his beloved to a moonlit landscape in which masked figures wander while playing the lute, dancing and singing, but underneath their disguise and in their songs they exude a melancholy that mixes with the sad beauty of the moon, making the jets of water of a fountain sob in ecstasy. The experience Diepenbrock had acquired when reworking the vocal part of Écoutez la chanson bien douce (Hear the Sweetest Song, RC 40) was immediately apparent in his setting of Clair de lune, which Smulders found si bien prosodé. (BD III:85) The composer made no further alterations.

Besides the ascending fifth with which the voice enters, Diepenbrock’s composition contains no other references to Fauré’s song. The wistful atmosphere of the poem is in the first place expressed by the Dorian melody that forms the basis of the song. De piano begins with the melody in the left hand and the voice takes it over, always accompanied by a descending figure (broken triad) in the right hand, which often spans a range of two octaves, expressing the splashing water cascading down the marble basins. Both elements are heard in a short span of time in different keys, with supple, ‘mild’ modulations and chord progressions. Like En sourdine (Muted, RC 104), the dynamics of this song remain within the range of pastel colours.

On 2 December 1898 Aaltje Noordewier-Reddingius premiered this song at a concert with the works by Diepenbrock that she had previously performed on 30 April. Clair de lune was published in 1905 by A.A. Noske with a dedication to soprano Alida Oldeboom-Lütkemann, who had performed the work in February of that year. Earlier Elisabeth Diepenbrock had written about this singer in her diary:

She is going to sing and study Fons’ songs with him, she is surprisingly musical and clever at understanding his intentions and she sings several songs, such as Clair de lune by Verlaine, in a more refined and spirited manner than Aal. (BD IV:298)

According to a note by his wife (BD VII:300), Diepenbrock transposed the song for the mezzo-soprano Ilona Durigo in December 1911. She performed the work, accompanied by Evert Cornelis, in February 1912 during a concert tour of the major Dutch concert halls: Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Nutszaal (Rotterdam) and Diligentia (The Hague).

Ton Braas