Conclusion of Colloque sentimental on cor anglais

Having departed from an introductory and contextualising view on French poetry and melody, we moved to a specific poem and art song that we unpacked and dove into, from where we took off to an experimental journey of (recording) reciting, singing and playing this sentimental colloquy that we transcribed into an English horn piece, reflecting on the connection and distinction between language and music, between voice and oboe, whereupon we currently reached the end of this interdisciplinary and musico-literary research. On this voyage, we constantly watched from different points of view, which would be the poetic view from Verlaine, the musical view from Debussy, the interpreting and vocal view from Bernac and Bathori, but also the literary and instrumental view from myself and my teachers. This journey actually never ends, so much to learn and to discover...

In order to respond to the research question, we have, as mentioned before, explored and applied several perspectives – from a contextual, poetical, vocal musical and instrumental angle – on French art song and on one mélodie in particular, concentrating on Colloque sentimental from Paul Verlaine and Claude Debussy as a case study, aiming to communicate a deeper understanding of the 'poésie' and 'mélodie' for performance practises. The studying and singing of this song resulted in an experimentation and reflection of playing the 'mélodie' on English horn, a process of musically translating the poetry into an instrumental transcription that takes into account the particularities and possibilities of the language and voice as well as these of the instrument in question, with the aim of providing useful material for fellow oboists and those who are interested. 

Once, it was the French poetry from Verlaine that took me to the French language, and the oboe that invited me to learn (playing) French instrumental music. Nowadays, French poetry and music have been brought together in my singing studies and job as a French coach for singers, where mélodies (and their poets and composers) have become a weekly main focus. Interpreting art songs like Colloque sentimental together with the voice students in my class, we all tend to approach mélodies from various viewpoints – everyone having a different reading anyway because of their frame of reference and personal background. First of all, we always take a literary and poetic approach when reading and translating the poem, using phonetics to help with the pronunciation and secondly, a vocal and musical approach when reading the score and finally (listening to) singing the art song. Eventually, the students will be able to pronounce the poems correctly, to put them into context (anthology, mentality, history, atmosphere and style) and translate them – understanding not only the meaning of the text but also its narrative viewpoint, plot, theme(s), analogies (metaphors, symbols) and other particularities –, have the tools to globally make a formal analysis and annotation (on sounds, rhythm, rhyme, stylistic devices, verse and stanza) and to connect the poem(s) to their own ideas and interpretations; preferably also to the poet, the composer, to other poems and works of art (like the painting of Watteau) and to the (spirit of) the time (such as that of the Fêtes galantes). 

From my point of view, one could use these poetical and vocal approaches for any art song available, from any poet and composer in general – keeping similar subjects in mind in chronological order when taking methodically on a mélodie, in the same way that my research has been built up (in my case of course also with the goal of (song) transcription): (1.) contextualising, (2.) unpacking, (3.) studying and experimenting while reciting, singing and playing, (4.) transcribing and reflecting on the poem or art song in question. These methods could be used by anyone who is interested in poetry and (transcribing) art song.

In this way, it would be possible to look at multiple mélodies from other French composers such as Maurice Ravel, Francis Poulenc, Lili Boulanger but also the Venezuelan-born Reynaldo Hahn, or even Dutch composers like Henriëtte Bosmans. Her Vier liederen op Franse tekst (“Four songs on French text”) for middle voice include Mon rêve familier from Verlaine: a very famous sonnet that describes a familiar dream about an unidentified woman who loves and understands the 'lyrical I', the narrator that loves her too, but who is never to be known. Personally, I would love to study this song from a poetical and vocal approach, sing it myself and maybe even make a transcription again, which could result in future research as well as in expanding even more the existing oboe repertoire or that of instrumental Dutch music in general (with transcriptions for any instrument).

Continuing to focus on Verlaine, I think it would also be interesting to put another poem from him to music or to play an original oboe work with his poetry in mind. These options I hope to further explore during my master project ('Professional Integration Activities') in which I will record a CD full of French vocal and instrumental music from the 20th century, preferably sharing a link with the poetry from Verlaine, which could of course also be a mélodie like the one from Bosmans (in a sense that Verlaine 'meets' Debussy and Bosmans). By singing and playing original works but also (song) transcriptions and arrangements on oboe, oboe d'amore and English horn (for example Nocturne pour violin et piano or D'un matin de printemps from Lili Boulanger in a version for flute/piccolo, oboe/English horn and piano) I wish to enrich the usual French oboe repertoire and show the link between language, poetry and music – intertwining poésie et mélodie – for example by (video) recording as well the voice as the cor anglais version from Verlaine and Debussy their Colloque sentimental


In conclusion, through the methods used, we have discovered what the influence of a poetical and vocal approach on the playing of mélodie on oboe(-related instruments) – in this case the Colloque on cor anglais – can be. For example, it was demonstrated during the research process how the understanding of literary and vocal phrases enhances horizontal and legato phrasing on English horn. Moreover, the use of various vowels as colours in playing – considering the fifteen French vowels – as well as that of consonants, commas and characters highly influences the playing for instance in terms of articulation, tone (colour and quality), dynamics, intention, breath(ing) and tempo. Consequently, an important challenge in this case consisted of writing the transcription in a feasible notation that would be playable for any oboist, even without prior knowledge of the French language and poetry, hopefully leading to a poetical and purposeful performance of the piece. Although the notation could take a performer halfway through, the last steps would obviously need to be taken by the artist who would also have to make a journey with the necessary effort, from the notation as a starting point to a contemplation of the poetry and melody that will provide all together a deeper understanding of the mélodie and transcription. For this reason I have made a case study of Colloque sentimental in my research, where I point out a stepwise process which could serve as a model of how to take the required steps in order to approach a mélodie poetically and vocally on oboe(-related instruments). 





Illustration for Verlaine's Fêtes galantes by André Dignimont. Retrieved the 20th of February 2022:

Sentimental colloquy (1944) is a painting from Salvador Dalí, or actually a ballet set ('a Surrealist extravaganza') he designed which he loosely based on Verlaine's poem.