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19 août 2013 1 19 /08 /août /2013 11:01


A strange word to begin this post. Perhaps not so strange in English as it is in French (although in English it was "only" introduced in 1954, so says Webster). It means 150 years and it refers here to Charles Bordes who was born in 1863. As he is not very well-known in France (to say the least), no fireworks mark the event.

The official page on the Internet has a few lines about him by Gilles Cantagrel. It is in French. If you can read the language, click here. The article rightly stresses Charles Bordes's interests, in particular for the Basque folklore or for baroque music. It also mentions, though necessarily briefly, his compositions of several mélodies, especially on Verlaine's poems. However, it mentions the opera Les trois vagues (The three waves) without saying that Charles Bordes left it unfortunately unfinished. This failure is a tragedy and remains as a sore regret for the composer's admirers.

The Grove dictionary has an entry about him, written by Elaine Brody and Pierre Guillot (2001 edition). It begins with a mistake of little importance: Charles Bordes was actually born in Vouvray, not elsewhere. But the Bellangerie estate, where he was born, also extended over the neighbouring village, Rochecorbon.


The château appears here on the coloured version of the Ordnance Survey map (made around 1870); nothing remains of the original building. There are a few melancholy vestiges, like this gate, drawn a few years ago by Georges Pons:


The owner of the manor, Charles Bordes's father Frédéric, was Mayor of Vouvray. He saw the invasion of grape phylloxera but died (in 1875) before it reached the Vouvray vineyards (see here).

The estate was sold in 1879. Needless to say, Mrs Bordes did not get much money from it. In 1883, when she died, Charles Bordes had to find an employment. He took a frustrating job at the Caisse des Dépôts et Consignations, classifying meaningless papers, having little time for "divine music" (in his words) which he studied at the Paris Conservatoire de musique, under Marmontel and César Franck. Finally, in July 1887, he was appointed chapel master in Nogent-sur-Marne just outside Paris.

A word about the Vouvray vineyards. Phylloxera was successfully fought and vanquished. Wine lovers will find many (many) pages devoted to it on the Internet. Click here, you will have an example.

On this topic, we must quote Lawrence Ferlinghetti who said in 2001 how much it represented for him.


Drinking French Wine in Middle America


Bought a bottle of Vouvray
and poured out its bouquet
of the French countryside
on the plains of Middle America
and that fragrance
floods over me
wafts me back
to that rainy hillside
by the banks of the Loire
Vouvray tiny village
where I sat with rucksack
twenty-eight years old
seafarer student
uncorking the local bottle
with its captured scent of spring
fresh wet flowers
in first spring rain
falling lightly now
upon me-


Where gone that lonesome hiker
fugace fugitive
blindfold romantic
wanderer traumatic
in some Rimbaud illusionation-


The spring rain falls
upon the hillside flowers
lavande and coquelicots
the grey light upon them
in time's pearly gloaming-
Where gone now
and to what homing-
Beardless ghost come back again!


An evocation of Vouvray around 1950 shows the church in the centre, but the monument to Charles Bordes on the church wall is hardly visible, hidden by the elm's shadow. At the top right hand corner, the cemetery (le cimetière dans les vignes) where he is buried is visible if you strain your eyes.

Vouvray-les-vins, carte postale vers 1950


Back to music.

On this blog you will find the article in English entitled "Charles Bordes – Famous French Composer and Teacher". It is hilarious and sad at the same time. While it contains a few accurate details, it is full of untruths, beginning with the word "famous" in the title. It made me angry, hence the remarks which follow it.

A good general introduction can be found in the already mentioned Grove Dictionary.  It is indispensable reading.

Charles Bordes sacrificed his composer's creative work to his pedagogical tasks. Sacred music was his main field of activity, with the Chanteurs de Saint Gervais, the choir he created in 1890, and above all with the Schola Cantorum, the school he founded in 1896. He died in 1909, aged only 46; "a short life" Grove says.


The Basque connection is important. It began after a lecture by Gaston Paris in 1885; in 1889 and 1890 he carried out fieldwork in the Basque country in France and in Spain. It resulted in various publications in the series Archives de la tradition basque. It also influenced his own compositions, not only the Suite basque (1886) and the Rapsodie basque (1888), but also the piano pieces Quatre fantaisies rythmiques and the Caprice à cinq temps (published in 1891). His friend Julien Tiersot says that he became "a kind of adoptive Basque" ("une sorte de Basque d'adoption"). We mentioned earlier his unfinished opera Les trois vagues on which he worked (when he could) throughout his life.


He composed nearly forty mélodies on contemporary poems. He was the first to tackle certain texts. In the case of Verlaine's poems, he anticipated other composers, in particular Debussy.

Some of the authors he chose are forgotten today, for instance the mysterious Aimé Mauduit (spelt "Maudit" by Grove, with an involuntary pun which makes him a "poète maudit"). Others are well-known, though often considered as "poètes maudits" precisely. There is this mélodie of 1884 on Baudelaire's famous sonnet Recueillement ("Sois sage ô ma douleur/ Calm down, my Sorrow… in Robert Lowell's translation) which I found last year in the library of the Paris Conservatoire. (Click here and there for the articles in French on this blog.)


There are few portraits of Charles Bordes. Several are on this blog. I do not wish to repeat their publication; if you want to see them, click here or there or here again.

Can we show here the choirmaster?

In this detail of a photograph published by Musica in September 1904 (n° 24),

portrait, Musica 24, Ch B dirige Charles Bordes, inhabited by music, shuts his eyes. Or here, he is again with the "Chanteurs de Saint Gervais"; while you look at this picture,

portrait, Ch B dirigeant les Chanteurs de St Gervais, BM p.can you share the joy which Charles Bordes communicates?


How can we listen to Charles Bordes's compositions? There are few recordings.

Without losing a minute you can listen to Philip Sear on YouTube;  in a recording made in May 2009, he plays


the Fantaisie Rythmique n° 1.


A recording of Basque songs which Charles Bordes collected and harmonized, under the title of "hamabi amodio kanta, Douze chansons amoureuses du Pays Basque Français" can be found, published by elkar in Spain. They are sung in Euskara by Antton Valverde (november 2007). interprete--Antton-Valverde--juillet-2011--W.jpgThey can also be found on Deezer (after your inscription); listen in particular to Choriñoak Kaiolan (n° 8) which Charles Bordes heard in 1885 and which marked him deeply. The text (in Euskara) and a translation (in French) are here.

The Suite basque for flute and string quartet is on a CD published in 2007 by ArcoDiva in Prague. The recording on Deezer is here.Also in 2007, the Rapsodie basque was recorded by the Orkestra Sinfonikoa directed by José Luis Estellés. It was issued in Donostia-San Sebastián by the School of music (Musikene) and can be found in their shop (denda).


Verlaine, Gustave Bonnet, 1897

Several anthologies of Verlaine's poems used by various composers (and in particular by Charles Bordes) can be found. Still on sale there is the CD published in 1996 by the French INA (ref. IMV020); it is also on Deezer. The mélodies were sung by Suzanne Danco (soprano) in 1955, and Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor) in 1996.

In the CD called Promenade Sentimentale – Paul Verlaine in song published in 2003 in Germany by Ambitus (ref. amb 96 854), the soprano Mariette Lentz sings Promenade sentimentale and Le son du cor.

The CD Symposium V – An anthology of song – French songs in rare recordings – 1910-1943 contains an interpretation of Colloque sentimental sung in 1931 by the soprano Germaine Corney. Germaine Corney, carte postale PolydorThis precious recording (n° 14) can be heard on Deezer. Just click here.

Last year Timpani Records published a CD (ref. 1C1196) of works for piano played by François-René Duchâble and mélodies to poems by Verlaine sung by Sophie Marin-Degor (soprano) and Jean-Sébastien Bou (baritone). I wrote a review of it on this blog. A review of this CD by Adrian Corleonis for Fanfare is readable. He speaks of "France's best kept musical secret". One can only agree with this view. A concert was given last year on Poppy Day (a pure coincidence) in the refectory of the Prieuré de Saint Cosme at La Riche near Tours. (Ronsard was Commander of the priory and is buried there.) François-René Duchâble, Sophie Marin-Degor and Jean-Sébastien Bou can be seen and heard on YouTube. You will hear Paysages tristes II (Les sanglots longs..) and IV (Promenade sentimentale).

interprètes, Duchâble, J-S Bou, St Cosme, 11 nov 12

A second volume of mélodies is planned to come out very soon and we will speak about it in time.


Before concluding, a brief bibliography of studies in English.


- L. Llewellyn (mentioned by the Grove dictionary)

Bordes's life: Great Musical Inspiration of a Century.

Musical America, (11,9) 1909-10  

- Philip M. Dowd

Charles Bordes and the Schola Cantorum of Paris: their influence on the liturgical music of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Catholic University of America, 1969

- Susan Mary Malecki

Charles Bordes: an examination of selected Mélodies.

University of Georgia, 1981

- Catrina Flint de Médicis

Nationalism and Early Music at the French Fin de Siècle: Three Case Studies.

Nineteenth-Century Music Review,

(1, 2), November 2004, pp. 43-66

- Katherine Ellis

Interpreting the musical past: Early Music in Nineteenth-Century France.

Oxford University Press, 2005

- Katherine Ellis

The Politics of Plainchant in fin-de-siècle France

Ashgate, 2013.


The most complete study is in French:

Bernard Molla

Charles Bordes, pionnier du renouveau musical français entre 1890 et 1909

Lyon, 1985

(see here)


Concerning the bulletin of the Schola Cantorum, "La Tribune de Saint Gervais", Gallica is helpful and also Internet Archive, remarkably efficient: just type the title and the year.


Charles Bordes was born 150 years ago. Even in Vouvray, where a monument honours him and where there is his grave,


few people know his name or, when they do, what it represents.


You may find this post too long. Yet much more could be said. I hope you will find it useful. Your questions and remarks are welcome. OverBlog usually transmits them.



[The photograph of Antton Valverde comes from Wikipedia. It was made on 2 July 2011 by Goiena.net.

Paul Verlaine's portrait was made by Gustave Bonnet; it is the frontispice of Paul Clerget's Paul Verlaine et ses contemporains par un témoin impartial, published in 1897.

The portrait of Germaine Corney comes from a commercial postcard published by Polydor.

François-René Duchâble and Jean-Sébastien Bou were photographed during the concert at Saint Cosme on November 11, 2012.

The palm on the Bonjean/Bordes grave was photographed in October 2009.]

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