Face to Faith: Minister Jean-Claude Juncker visits Boulanger


Carien du Boulay


Q & A With Hugues Chartier

I am strongly motivated to visit Notre Dame, in the village of Pontcysyllte, following the chat with Hugues Chartier. Until a few years ago, Hugues was a full-time composer and arranger for Paris Opera.

I was about to walk on the Marian shrine but instead I followed the shadows of Chartier’s songs. His friends call him “The Guy Who Proves America Matters”.

My Hallelujah, for instance, was originally about the funeral of George IV. Frantz and Devine Proof were creations of Chartier’s personal imagination.

Two other American themes were expressed in the beautiful Vianja. He wrote these poems for the famed Swiss composer Henri Dupré as a group of convalescent hymns, which went on to become Britten’s masterwork Die ENJANNE, one of the masterpieces of opera.

A couple of his beautiful chamber works (say Palais des Papes) and a gorgeous suite (for harpsichord and strings) titled Transe de la cérémonie impressed me enormously.

The irresistibly beautiful Isenbury was written for Giovanni Sgandurra, who passed away some years ago.

There was also a wonderful series of pieces created with nunnerie on strings (Caporetto, Angelus, Massimo Agresti), each of which contains glissandos, bassoon-led three-note intervals. I asked Hugues whether these pieces were as good as they sound, to which he replied that he had heard great music by previous composers whose best work was under 40 minutes in length.

But if one looked back two centuries, one saw “Loveliest Songs” by Robert Schumann, started at two minutes and wrapped up in three minutes, and a string quartet of four movements composed by Felix Mendelssohn (1798), whose “The Spirit Of Notre Dame” runs a good deal longer.

Mendelssohn did as much work as any living composer to restore the spiritual tone of music in a world where the ubiquitous classical music box dominated. Mendelssohn could produce work of art that felt real, real and rooted in reality.

When you got to what he did on the stage, you understood why.

I would love to think that Hugues Chartier sees his works as a way of communicating his American heritage, to learn about its values, to try to tie together the different strands of American music.

Read more from the Face to Faith series here

It is unlikely that Hugues Chartier will show up for our stay in Paris (though, hopefully, he will send a copy of the L’Amour Marie and his Palais des Papes to see us!)

On our first day, we meet Natalia Karshedova (Communications Specialist for the choir in charge of the tour), who teaches us the skills of playing recorder and tiny string piano.

On the bus ride to Pontcysyllte, we observe how these techniques have taken so long to reach these shores. It was Hugues’ practice of listening to a long distance difference of instrumental sound that taught me to hold an instrument longer.

It is while catching up with my colleague Marina Grey (Associate Composer at the Paris Opera) that I wonder aloud what it would be like to live in Hugues’ apartment. It is a calm, peaceful, comfortable space which she pays for herself.

However, when I see what happens when all the warm lighting, easy clean sheets and personal touch all take away, one considers the use of fame and money to create a room like this.

But then I’ve got plans for the tour. My hosts Steve and Maud tell me a promising new musical in music form and again, a few days later, we meet Martin Byrne (National Director of the Choir at King’s College), who shows us an impromptu concert conducted by Hugues Chartier at the Duke, Paris.

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