- Paul Griffiths
(b Metz, March 30, 1844; d Paris, Jan 8, 1896). French poet. ‘De la musique avant toute chose’: the first line of his Art poétique announced the principle that underlies most of Verlaine’s work. He brought back to French poetry the musical qualities which had not been cultivated so consciously since the Renaissance – euphony, elegance of rhythm, metric virtuosity, and compact formal perfection – and drew much of his imagery from music, particularly in the Fêtes galantes. In this collection, which has attracted more settings than any other, he created a world of Watteauesque artifice and commedia dell’arte disguise, a mask of sophistication that half-conceals deeper emotions. Both aspects, the musical finesse and the exquisite ambiguities, appealed to the young Debussy, who was the first composer of any importance to set Verlaine. The best of Debussy’s early work is that based on Verlaine: the songs of 1880–92, the Suite bergamasque...