Composer Profile: Gustave Charpentier, Socialist Composer

By David Salazar

Charpentier is known as somewhat of a “one-hit-wonder” in the opera world, perhaps best known for his opera “Louise,” which features the gorgeous aria “Depuis le jour.”

In his time, however, he was a renowned composer, best-known for provoking the rigid social standards of French opera.

Born June 25, 1860, in Dieuze, France, Charpentier moved to Paris in the 1880s. He studied under Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire.

In 1887, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome to study Italian opera.

During this time, he wrote the successful orchestral piece, “Impressions of Italy.” Upon his return to Paris, Charpentier was swept up in the socialist movements of the late-nineteenth century and vowed to create politically charged music.

In 1902, he founded the Conservatoire Populaire Mimi Pinson, which intended to provide free education for the working class girls of Paris.

In his later life, he was unproductive as a composer. He would die at age 95 in 1956.

Signature Work

His most famous work, “Louise,” is a clear example of this. The opera took the composer ten years to complete. “Louise,” depicting the working-class, was an instant hit at its premiere at Paris’ Opéra-Comique. Charpentier became associated with the Italian verismo movement as a result.

Despite the work’s alleged socialist undertones, “Louise” was performed around the world. In 1913, Charpentier attempted to follow-up with another successful work, a sequel to “Louise,” but the work was universally panned. He died in 1956 at age 96, and conducted his work at the age of 90 in a special revival of “Louise” for the Paris Opera.

Angel Blue sings “Depuis le jour” at the Met’s recent online gala.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWftDjojHP4

Here is a full recording of  “Louise.”

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