Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2013
The poetry of Charles Baudelaire has always posed a particular challenge to composers who choose to set him to music. According to Katherine Bergeron, composer Henri Duparc was ‘the first composer to make a successful setting’ of his work. Why Baudelaire seems to present an especial difficulty for composers, however, has rarely been addressed by critical scholarship. This essay sets out to explore what it is that presents such a compositional challenge, and the ways in which composers are able to accept Baudelaire's invitation. By taking two settings of Baudelaire's ‘L'Invitation au voyage’ as its primary focus, this essay analyses the status of performance in Baudelaire's aesthetic (whether the performance of poetry, or the performance of song) and the importance of ‘sentiment’ within this aesthetic, in order to uncover something of what is at stake in the relationship between words and notes during the nineteenth century in France. As we focus on differences in approaches to the poem through music, a key question arises: can the relationship between words and notes be a reciprocal one, or does poetry suffer in the process of becoming song?