Rimbaud à Verlaine


text by Arthur Rimbaud
Duration: 8:00
Date of Composition: 1999

PROGRAM NOTES: Rimbaud à Verlaine / Rimbaud to Verlaine is a setting of a letter Rimbaud wrote from London, Friday afternoon, 4 July 1873.  It is a pleading letter, perhaps the most poignant in the history of all ill-fated relationships.  Rimbaud, at this point in his stormy relationship with Paul Verlaine, is at his most vulnerable: young, poor, and confused by Verlaine’s inconsistent love.  It was, alas, a relationship not to be.  Both headstrong, genius poets, their paths separated forever a few years after they met.

Most of Rimbaud’s work was written between the ages of sixteen and nineteen.  Soon after that, he abandoned all literary activity.  The only work he ever published was Une saison en enfer (A season in hell), an illusion to the time spent with Verlaine.  It begins with the unforgettable line:

            Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet

            Where every heart revealed itself, where all wines flowed.

After extensive traveling looking for an opportunity that would lift him and his mother and sister out of near-poverty, he suffered, in February, 1891, a tumor on his right knee.  He was hospitalized in Marseilles where his leg was amputated.  He died the following November at the age of thirty-seven.

I have made two settings of this letter, in French and English.  The two are connected by a brief Interlude for piano.  The music for both settings is as similar as I could make it, given the requirements of French and English prosody.  I intend both versions to be sung, with the piano Interlude in between.  Either the original French or the English translation may come first; I leave this up to the performers.   

                                                                                                                    -James Sellars