Monday, 31 March 2014

Jaufré, by George

Here's another indication of how Rostand's La Princesse Lointaine spread the Rudel legend more widely by influencing the visual arts. Besides the work by Mucha, Erté, and Vrubel, there were also illustrations by a famous-ish English artist.

George Sheringham (1884-1937) was best known as a stage designer, but he also illustrated books by the likes of Max Beerbohm, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cyrus MacMillan, and - it so happens - Edmond Rostand. 

This edition of La Princesse Lointaine was published in 1919 and featured 26 illustrations by Sheringham. It was a limited run of 100 copies and was printed by J. Meynial, 'Aux dépens d'un Amateur' named Eugène Renevey.

Sheringham was evidently well qualified to take on the Rudel legend: he spent the final five years of his life as an invalid, though not from pining for an idealised woman, lointaine or otherwise. 

The edition sometimes comes up on rare book websites (from where I sourced most of the pics).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Rudel by Vrubel

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel (1856-1920) was a Russian Symbolist painter whose struggles with tertiary syphilis probably sealed his reputation as a purveyor of feverish, sometimes demonic visions.

In 1896, Vrubel was commissioned to design a mural for a pavilion in the 1896 Nizhny Novgorod exhibition. He submitted two designs: the one that interests us here was a scene inspired by Rostand’s La Princesse Lointaine (known in Russia as Princess Gryoza, or The Princess of the Dream). The exhibition panel rejected both murals, but they were later completed by other artists under Vrubel’s guidance.

Preparatory sketch

Finished canvas
It was presumably this picture - a 53-by-23-foot canvas painted in oils - that was discovered in a Bolshoi Theatre warehouse in 1960 and, after restoration, formed one of the centrepieces of the reopened State Tretyakov Gallery in 1995. 

The Gallery’s notes describe it thus:

The ship seems to be soaring over the waves. In the centre is the dying prince, a lyre in his hand. Standing by the ship's mast is his friend, knight and poet Bertrand. To the right are pirates, moved by the intensity of the prince's love; What they have witnessed will subsequently turn them into crusaders, knights of the spirit. In the last moments of his life, the hero sings a song about his reverie, princess Melisande. The entire world – Nature's elements and people's souls alike - are caught by the sounds of lofty music. At this instant, beauty triumphs in the world and a miracle takes place: the ravishing princess bends over the poet's brow. The painting personified the idea of art's timelessness, its spiritual power over the temporal world.
In 1905, Vrubel returned to his treatment of the Rudel legend when he created mosaics for the hotel Metropol in Moscow. One facade features a mosaic panel also entitled 'Princess Gryoza'. It’s still there, and often shows up on Flickr.

The following year, Vrubel’s long struggle with tertiary syphilis left him almost blind and mentally unable to continue painting, and he died in 1910. But we don’t expect happy endings where Rudel is concerned.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A little Jaufré in the night

Rooting about in the University of Bristol's Theatre Collection recently, I happened across some issues of The Yellow Book - the short-lived (1894-1897) but notorious literary journal. I'd wondered whether I might find mention of Rostand or Bernhardt, this being the era of La Princesse Lointaine, but no. What did jump out at me was a poem by Rosamund Marriott Watson from the July 1896 issue.

'D'Outre tombe' ('Beyond the Grave') is a short lament that, well, speaks for itself, really. Here it is:
Beside my grave, if chance should ever bring you,
You, peradventure, on some dim Spring day,
What song of welcome could my blackbird sing you,
As once in May?

As once in May, when all the birds were calling,
Calling and crying through the soft Spring rain,
As once in Autumn with the dead leaves falling
In wood and lane.

I, in my grave, and you, above, remember –
And yet between us what is there to say? –
In Death’s disseverance, wider than December
Disparts from May.

I with the dead, and you among the living,
In separate camps we sojourn, unallied;
Life is unkind and Death is unforgiving,
And both divide.
No, not the greatest thing ever written, but it has Rudel stamped all the way through it. The line 'As once in May' is a pretty spot-on echo of Jaufré's 'Lanquan il jorn son lonc en mai', and the blackbird / dead leaves imagery is standard troubadour schtick. It could also pass for a monologue by the dead Rudel.

Not mention the similarity of the title to a certain book concerning Jaufré Rudel.

No doubt this is one of thousands of Provençal knock-offs from the Victorian era, but its publication in the Bible of the Decadents is kind of interesting.  

Thursday, 21 February 2013

‘Unflagging energy and a lack of tenderness...’

The Chester Musical Festival of 1891 saw the premiere of a specially commissioned work composed by one Dr JC Bridge, organist at Chester Cathedral and conductor of the Festival.

The dramatic cantata, Rudel, with a libretto by Mr FE Weatherley, was performed in the city’s music hall on Wednesday 22 July. A review in The Times the following Monday commented:

The chief characteristic of Mr Bridge’s music is unflagging energy, its principal defect a lack of tenderness in what may be styled the sentimental portions.

Bit of a drawback for a tale roughly 97% sentiment, but entirely in keeping with the image of 19th-century British classical music.

A ‘revels’ scene apparently used old English folk tunes including ‘Cheshire rounds’, ‘Carman’s whistle’, and the granddaddy of them all, ‘Summer is icumen in’, and did so with impunity, indicating that in 1891 there weren’t yet any purists to get hot under the collar about travestying the Provencal essence of the story.
We note that the role of a love rival, Sir Guy, was sung by a baritone with the splendid name of Bantock Pierpoint.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A 'new' Rudel song...

Edmond Rostand’s rendition of the Rudel legend, La Princesse Lointaine, features several lyrics written by Rostand but attributed to his fictionalised Goffroy. The original production must have set this to a melody of some kind; but a century later, it seems there’s a new one.

An album by the French singer-songwriter Michel Melchionne (Le rêve est le pain de ma vie) features a song entitled ‘La Princesse Lointaine’, which is credited to ‘Edmond Rostand / Michel Melchionne’.  

Though I haven’t heard it yet, Melchionne’s song probably uses the lyric from Act I Scene IV (for those of you following along at home) which begins:
C'est chose bien commune
De soupirer pour une
Blonde, châtaine ou brune

Lorsque brune, châtaine.
Ou blonde, on l'a sans peine.
— Moi, j'aime la lointaine
Princesse !

...and ends:

Le seul rêve intéresse.
Vivre sans rêve, qu'est-ce?
Et j'aime la Princesse
More information via this youtube page...

Friday, 20 July 2012

Nice draperies, shame about the females

Pity the poor, Pre-Raphaelite painter, untroubled by fame, who decides to have a bash at an obscure troubadour legend for his next subject. 

Such a fellow was one Mr Winfield (even his first name is lost to oblivion), who exhibited his painting, 'Geoffroi Rudel', at the Liverpool Society of Fine Arts in October 1860. The Liverpool Mercury's art critic, having laid into another work of Winfield's entitled 'Jock O'Hazledean' ('a ridiculous, faulty, unnatural abortion'), was a little kinder to his Rudel daub:
This is a picture of some merit, rich in colouring, and the notorious hardness of the pre-Raphael school is somewhat modified. [...] The drawing is also generally good, and the draperies admirable.

But wait... he's not done.
There is, however, a lackadaisical expression about the females which is unfortunate, and should have been avoided by a clever man. One drawback we must notice [...] all the females are painted from the same model, consequently have the same class of features, just a little modified or changed by the painter. This is very wrong.
Altogether the picture is very promising. If the artist will only avoid the absurd crudities and still more absurd rejection of principles which characterise the pre-Raphaelite section of painters, he may attain a high name in art; but adherence to these will only ruin him, as it has done many a man of fair promise within the last ten years.  

Both artist and painting have vanished into obscurity - not that they really ever left it. But the same, of course, goes for the critic.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A Rudel cantata

The Rudel legend has a knack of inspiring minor works, often by long-forgotten artists. Here’s another one: Rudel. A Dramatic Cantata, composed for the 1891 Chester Music Festival by Joseph Cox Bridge (libretto by Frederic Edward Weatherley).

Dr Joseph Cox Bridge (1853-1929), described in one reference work as ‘a celebrated organist and a composer of some merit’, was part of an English musical family (his older brother was Frederick ‘Westminster’ Bridge). He was organist at Exeter College, Oxford, then at Chester Cathedral from 1877, and became Professor of Music at the University of Durham. Besides the Rudel cantata he also composed oratorios, a string quartet in G minor, anthems, songs, part-songs and piano music.

A review in The Times (27 July 1891) offered a synopsis that suggests this rendition strays somewhat from the standard story:
Rudel, a troubadour of Provence, is beloved of a Norman damsel, Felise, whose praises he sings, and whose portrait he shows at a baronial festival in England, whereupon an English knight, Sir Guy, claims the lady as his wife, and challenges Rudel to combat. Rudel slays his opponent, and, feeling that his blood will form an insuperable barrier to his wedding Felise, takes upon him the vow of a Crusader, and joins a party of knights on their road to the Holy Land. Passing through Normandy on his way to the East, however, he meets his lady love, and learns from her that Sir Guy was not her husband, but only a rejected wooer who determined to wreak his revenge by separating her from Rudel. The hero, bound by his vow, continues on his journey to the Crusades, Felise promising to pray for his welfare and safe and speedy return.

The introduction uses ‘three old English melodies, the very ancient “Summer is icumen in”, the dance tune “Cheshire rounds”, and the Elizabethan “Carman’s whistle”.’ The reviewer goes on to say that 'its principal defect' is 'a lack of tenderness in what may be styled the sentimental portions'. That'll be a 19th-century English composer for you, then.

The score has yet to appear in full online, but at least one copy of it is available for purchase.