This Musical Journey, with the word ‘travelogue’ on the title page, opens with views of the fantastic - not too strong a word - Palace of Versailles located to the south-west of Paris. The nucleus of the fantastic building and grounds was started in 1631 when Louis XIII took over the estate of the Gondi family who had come from Florence with the retinue of Catherine de Medici. It was developed, into what can be seen today, by the young Louis IV who had an agenda to create something so grand as to overshadow anything his courtiers had managed. Later kings added to the design including the vast park, huge lakes and myriad fountains with vast demands for water.
Views of the inside include the arrays of chandeliers and mirrors of the Great Hall with its ornate ceilings. It was a palace and kings lived here and enjoyed the views and the fountains. Not that they are working at the time of this filming any more than when I visited. Shortage of water was given as the reason. I think it was more likely penny-pinching to save the power of the pumps that need to shift sixty-two thousand hectolitres of water per hour to feed the one thousand four hundred jets. There is no shortage of water at the Chateau of Chantilly north-east of Paris in its lake setting. This takes up the remaining time in chapter 1. It is accompanied by the lyric Allegro con brio
opening movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5. Chantilly is a name associated with the sport of kings and there are brief views of large stables and majestic animals.
The content of the journey moves (CH.2) to the more prosaic Paris of Montmartre with its village atmosphere, the Canal Saint-Martin and the Place des Vosges. This is to the accompaniment of the more sedate pace of the concerto Adagio
. The journey leaves Paris for the moment moving on in some kind of divertissement to the Pays de la Loire, the historical heart of France. The visit focuses (CH.3) on Chinon with its mighty bastide chateau towering over the town and the river Vienne which, shortly after, flows into a more famous and longer river. Chinon is famous as the birthplace of the 16th century humanist, doctor and writer François Rabelais, creator of Pantagruel and his monstrous father, Gargantua. It is also an area that makes some pretty good red wine. The memory of Rabelais is kept alive by the society of Les Bons Entonneurs Rabelaisiens with plenty of drinking, thus following the precepts of Rabelais, Beuvez, ne mourrez jamais
(Drink, never die). The last movement’s ebullience is a fitting conclusion.
Chapter 4 of this French journey takes the visitor back to an even more prosaic Paris at the opulent restaurant Le Train Bleu and Gare de L'Est and Gare du Nord. Between 1922 and 2007 Le Train Bleu provided for travellers landing at Calais and heading for the Riviera, a service now provided by the speedier TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse). The elegiac Piano Sonata Les Adieux
is fitting in title and mood as the visit goes on to the Père Lachaise Cemetery (CH.5). It has many notable graves as well as memorials to the greats of literature and music with relevance to France and Paris. Notables include Bellini, who died in Paris and Rossini, who is buried in the Santa Croce in Florence. The latter is remembered for his many Paris associations by a fine statue alongside those of Molière, Proust and Victor Hugo.
The journey concludes (CH.6) with the Paris of the Place de la Concorde, with its horrendous traffic, the mighty Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysées and views of the Tour Eiffel. For those who do not know it the great church on the hill seemingly looking down from beyond the Boulevard Haussmann is the Basilica of Sacré Coeur and is well worth the walk up. Missing too is any view of the Seine, the Cathedral of Notre Dame and its small but spectacular neighbour.
Maybe the examples I give will help justify a further issue in this series devoted just to Paris itself. There is plenty of music with appropriate connections. If you thought that the music of the Germanic Beethoven was questionable accompaniment to this issue, reflect on the date of its composition, 1809, when its dedicatee was at the gates of Hapsburg Vienna in his foray after European triumphs!
Robert J Farr