Understanding French Verse: A Guide for Singers / Edition 1

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Advice to young singers often follows the standard line of the great French singer Claire Croiza: "Study the poem away from the music, so that you know what the words really mean." But Croiza's advice is notoriously difficult to follow when performing French mélodies. Just how do you approach a French poem? In the lyric poetry on which the mélodie is based, meaning is conveyed not just through the words but also through the poem's formal structure.

Understanding French Verse: A Guide for Singers explains this formal structure and sets out the basics of French versification, using examples drawn from a wide range of well-known song settings. Its chapters examine French meters, stanzaic forms, sonnets, rondels and other fixed forms, rhyme and sound patterning, and free verse poems. Written in a clear and concise way, it explains the Alexandrine, how to distinguish different meters by counting syllables, and how to identify stresses in French verse. The book also illustrates how rhyme works and the ways in which a French sonnet differs from its counterpart in English. And it demonstrates how the understanding of verse techniques enhances the interpretation and enjoyment of the mélodie. The book also offers valuable resources, including a brief history of French versification, detailed analysis of several poems, a glossary of technical terms, and suggestions for further reading.

While other books help singers with French diction, or offer translations of French texts, no other book helps a singer understand the meaning behind what they are singing. Understanding French Verse is an essential tool for singers, accompanists, and other musicians who want to understand more about the French texts with which they are working. It also provides a useful basic introduction to students of French poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The complexities of French verse may at times appear daunting to the non-native French singer who wishes to intelligently perform the magnificent mélodies of Chausson, Duparc, Fauré, Debussy, Leguerney, and Poulenc. In this short guide, David Hunter provides a key to a profounder understanding of the formal structure of the many forms of French verse, thereby clarifying the nature of line, metre, and rhyme schemes."—Richard Miller, Professor of Singing and Director of Vocal Arts Center, Oberlin Conservatory of Music

"Without a doubt, the vocal world has been waiting for this volume. To us, what the author labels 'the apparent mysteries of French verse' are not apparent but real, and they are certainly mysterious. I myself have set out to fathom this complex body of knowledge at least four times and arrived nowhere. With the aid of this book I feel I could actually learn what those arcane rules really signify and what they can contribute to my interpretation of French mélodie. It's stimulating also, an extra joy for the reader."—Shirlee Emmons, author of The Art of the Song Recital and Power Performance for Singers

"Understanding French Verse is an excellent resource for anyone associated with art song in French. How common it is for students to sing these songs simply because they are assigned by their voice teachers, with at best only a superficial understanding of the poems they are presenting. How much more they would bring to their performances having read this book."—David Adams, Professor of Voice and Head of the Performance Studies Division, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195177169
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 3/1/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 8.40 (w) x 5.70 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

David Hunter is a graduate of Oxford University, where he specialized in 19th and 20th century French poetry. He is currently studying the verse of the mélodie as part of a postgraduate degree. He is a keen amateur singer and collects rare recordings of French song.

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Table of Contents

1. Why This Guide?
2. The Basics of the French Line
3. Common French Meters
4. Stanzas
5. Sonnets, rondels, and other fixed forms
6. Rhyme
7. Free verse
Appendix 1. Commentaries on four poems
Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe
Le colibri
En sourdine
Appendix 2. Poems and songs discussed in the guide
Appendix 3. A brief history of French versification
Glossary of technical terms
Suggestions for further reading

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