Exquisite, alluring music. Beautiful melodies and heartfelt emotionalism.
A period of French and European history, La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Age) spanned from the late nineteenth century to the start of the First World War. Known for its salon music, composers from this era include Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, and Reynaldo Hahn.
St John’s Smith Square, a beautiful Grade 1 listed building, provides the perfect setting for works from this era. They are holding a Belle Époque Festival, from 24-27 November, and we’re looking forward to performing as part of it. Join us on 24 November for a programme of French works by Reynaldo Hahn and Louise Farrenc. Book online here.
Musicologist and Historian, Dr Lucy Walker, talks to us about what the Belle Époque era was, and what to expect in this Festival.
Why should people come to the Belle Époque Festival?
The music from that period is absolutely astonishing - it’s exquisite, refined, and there’s lots of it. It’s just going to be the most glorious Festival.
What were the date parameters of the Belle Époque era?
Some people think it began in the 1900s, some the late 1880s. But the broad era is really from the end of the Franco-Prussian Wars in the early 1870s through to the start of World War One in 1914, when it definitively did end.
What do you think the key musical and cultural attributes of the Belle Époque era were?
I think some of the key attributes musically is this sense of refinement. They’re not huge extrovert works – there’s quite a lot of chamber music and it’s quite intimate – but they are works with heart-on-sleeve emotionalism.
Is there a composer in the Festival programme that you’re especially excited about?
It’s wonderful to hear so much Reynaldo Hahn. There are loads of his songs being performed in this Festival and all of them are just beautiful. There’s also an extraordinary piano piece (Le Rossignol éperdu) that’s rarely performed of his as well that is worth hearing.
Why do you think Reynaldo Hahn isn’t so well known?
He’s one of those composers that slightly fell out of favour after his death. His music was seen as quite conservative, and musical developments after his death moved on without him. But by the 1990s, people began to rediscover the sheer beauty of his works and make recordings of them. I think there is also this great nostalgia for this period of the Belle Époque, and his songs are at the centre of that.
Are there any composers we are likely to have heard of from the Belle Époque?
Yes, some of the more famous composers from that era are Gabriel Fauré, Maurice Ravel, and Claude Debussy. There’s also Pauline Viardot – who people may not have heard of – who was an opera singer and composer as well, and he hosted these terrific salons, where lots of his music was performed.
Tell us about artists and writers from that time.
Some very well-known artists include: Gaugin; Renoir; Toulouse-Lautrec. However, writers were especially well associated with this period, particularly Marcel Proust, who, at one time, had been in a relationship with Reynaldo Hahn, and was fascinated by music.
St John's Smith Square'e Belle Époque Festival trailer: