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Albrecht, Florent. Ut musica poesis. Modele musical et enjeux poetiques de Baudelaire a Mallarme (1857-1897).

Albrecht, Florent. Ut musica poesis. Modele musical et enjeux poetiques de Baudelaire a Mallarme (1857-1897). Paris: Editions Honore Champion, 2012. Pp. 498. ISBN: 978-2-7453-2322-4

The status of music in relation to poetry has long been the subject of critical enquiry. Florent Albrecht's addition to the field offers an overarching approach, using Baudelaire's Fleurs du mal (1857) as the starting point for the study, and the 1897 publication of Mallarme's Un Coup de des as the end point. In reality, Albrecht's study goes back to Rousseau and forward to Valery and Gide, encompassing a wide range of poets, from the Belgian Symbolists Maeterlinck and Rodenbach, to the "Francais d'adoption" Krysinska and Merrill, via Banville, Corbiere, Nerval, Rimbaud, and Verlaine among others. The breadth of this study is its key strength: it seeks to understand the complex network of relationships between poetry and music as a reaction to poetry's relationship with the visual arts. Albrecht examines the apparent move away from the long-standing governing principle of representation and mimesis (ut pictura poesis) towards that of music (ut musica poesis).

The driving question here is whether or not the musical model--much vaunted by poets of this era as central to poetic inspiration, composition, and reception--is in fact a red herring. Albrecht approaches this question by examining how different schools of poetry, from the Parnassians to the Symbolists and the Decadents, approach music. He highlights how poets exploit the "stimulus createur" of music (72) in order to promote the equivalence of art forms whilst nonetheless claiming that poetry is the apogee of the artistic hierarchy. In this vein, Albrecht examines the relationship between "popular" and "noble" forms of poetry, including chanson form (whose typography and derived forms are examined in 1.2). He carefully sets up a critical distinction between a work which is designed to be "lu/entendu" (chanson) and one which is designed to be "lu et vu" (poesie). This emphasis on the different roles of sight and sound contribute to Albrecht's central thesis, namely that: "la revolution des arts n'est plus picturale, elle est musicale et se pose par rapport a l'art pictural" (165).

Albrecht goes on to demonstrate how this new musical model in fact remains nothing more than a utopian ideal. He puts forward the idea that the end of Romanticism, concomitant with the rise of vers libre, is marked by the year 1885, a year which signals both the death of Hugo and the founding of the Revue wagnerienne following the composer's death in 1883. Wagner looms large in the study because his work promotes the unattainable musical ideal which seduces the various groups of poets throughout the era, whether or not they adhere to traditional metrical verse or exploit vers libre. A range of close-readings which pay detailed attention to rhythm, and comparative analyses of poets' work alongside critical writings by contemporary theorists and treatise-writers support this point. Albrecht thus surveys the pivotal status of the vers libre in relation to aesthetic thought (especially Bergson and Schopenhauer) and the concept of "musicalismes" (references to music). Albrecht's close-reading of Louis le Cardonnel's poem "Le Piano," for example, highlights extensive use of different "musicalismes," including references to an instrument, a piece of music, a melodic line, a composer, a performer. Yet this surfeit of "musicalismes" in fact reveals the non-musical nature of the text because it is over-saturated with musical imagery (364). The musical model thus crumbles in the face of the representational one, and the supposed revolutionary turn in poetry towards music is revealed to be nothing more than a chimera.

Given the level of perception in Albrecht's analysis throughout, it is curious that he then chooses to adopt fugue form as a musical model to analyse Verlaine's word-music relations in the penultimate chapter. He claims that there are three fugue subjects in Verlaine's work: "figuralisme musical"; "la forme musicale"; "la presence verbale de termes [qui relevent] d'arts differents" (428). The analogy fails to persuade, in part because others have already conducted more nuanced analyses of Verlaine's relationship with music (Ruth White's well-known 1992 study Verlaine et les musiciens is a case in point). Similarly, Albrecht does not acknowledge a key body of recent critical scholarship in this field, such as Joseph Acquisto's French Symbolist Poetry and the Idea of Music (2006), or Margaret Miner's Resonant Gaps between Baudelaire and Wagner (1995), to name but two. Nonetheless, Albrecht's research is extensive, largely in line with the findings of other recent studies, and broader in its aims. Overall, this is a well-orchestrated and carefully marshalled analysis of a complex era of word-music relations in France.

Helen Abbott, University of Sheffield
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Author:Abbott, Helen
Publication:Nineteenth-Century French Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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