André Caplet’s Conte Fantastique for harp and string quartet is an example of a francophone fascination with the writings of Edgar Allen Poe that started during during the latter part of the nineteenth century – indeed it’s been argued that Poe, at this time, was better known in France than in his native America. This popularity can be laid at the door of both Charles Baudelaire and Stephane Mallarmé whose brilliant translations of Poe (some say that they improved on the original!) caught the imagination of the French public.
And it wasn’t just poets: Debussy, after the success of his opera Pelléas and Mélisande, considered several new operatic projects, chief among which were two works by Poe/Baudelaire – The Fall of the House of Usher [La Chute de la Maison Usher] and The Devil in the Belfry [Le diable dans le beffroi] both of which, sadly, came to nought.
Caplet’s work is a wonderfully eerie tone poem (listen to the sound effects on the harp: the great clock chiming; the terrifying knocking of the eldritch spectre!) which tells the story of The Masque of the Red Death:
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