André Caplet’s Le Miroir de Jésus (1923), a song cycle scored for mezzo soprano soloist, women’s choir, string quartet, and two harps, has a lush sound world and dramatic vocal declamation, and it was immediately recognized as a masterpiece by the Parisian musical press. The work’s religious topic—mysteries of the rosary—has long been taken as the unambiguous sign that the piece and its composer were unapologetically Catholic, like the author of the poems, the convert Henri Ghéon. In the context of a secular French nation, unambiguous Catholicism can easily signal reactionary politics. Moreover, since it does not project images of anarchy, flappers, or committed nonchalance toward morality, when interpreted vis-à-vis the narrative of French musical aesthetics in the 1920s, the work’s status changed from masterpiece to footnote. Yet, though the work’s early reception by Catholic writers cemented its classification as a sacred work, Caplet’s own goals were less clear. Through a comparative musical analysis of characteristics that Le Miroir shares with Caplet’s secular works whose themes come from classicism or mystery, I demonstrate his agnostic aesthetic. Through an investigation of archival sources relating to Caplet’s smaller contemporaneous projects, including a 1923 setting of a poem by Baudelaire, his contribution to La Revue musicale’s 1924 Le Tombeau de Ronsard, and his response to a 1924 survey about “new music,” Caplet’s interest in classicism emerges as a salient context for understanding his largest postwar composition. Additionally Caplet’s real-time documentation of his creative process and goals in detailed correspondence with his wife, Geneviève, contributes further evidence of Caplet’s pragmatism. Rather than moralistic and reactionary, Le Miroir can be understood in the context of postwar artists attempting to render spirituality less institutional and more personal.
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Megan Sarno; Reflection, Representation, Religion: André Caplet’s Le Miroir de Jésus. 19th-Century Music 1 July 2020; 44 (1): 36–58. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2020.44.1.36
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