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One page autographed letter by the French poet and librettist to novelist and co-librettist of “Les Muscadins”, Jules Claretie; co-signed by Chabrier, c. 1881.


The French poet and librettist writes to his co-librettist and author of the book “Les Muscadins” on behalf of himself and Chabrier regarding their mutual work on an opera of the same name. 


My dear friend


I need to speak with you about a Ghost.  Neither Chabrier nor I forget Les Muscadins. We may even have, from one point of view, more memories than you.  Would you care to grant a rendezvous for us three? It will be, for all, a good memory and perhaps will give us something interesting.


... Two days' advance notice to Chabrier, who will let me know.


Meanwhile, my friendship to you both.


Armand Silvestre


Emmanuel Chabrier


Chabrier (1841-1894) in 1880 resigned his position in government to devote himself completely to composition. He was very excited by Jules Claretie’s (1840-1913) 1874 play, “Les Muscadins” based on the book by the same name.  The composer considered the work en par with the works of Alexandre Dumas Pére.  The story revolved around gangs of distinct and well dressed young men during the French Revolution called Muscadins who wore musk cologne and carried big sticks utilized to beat Jacobins.  (Part of the First White Terror).  Chabrier proposed the work to poet Armand Silvestre (1837-1901) with whom he had worked on two projects, the opera comique “Le Sabbat” in 1877.  The well connected Chabrier proposed the idea to Claretie and he accepted with the caveat that he would be co-librettist.  Silvestre wrote the start of a libretto from the play which is described in the letter above and Chabrier began to write music for the work.  As discussed in the letter above, Chabrier took the libretto to Claretie for a reading and then proposed a meeting with the three of them.  At this point he was very excited about the work.  As all of his previous work was operetta and opera comique, it was his first dramatic stage work and thus he was preparing a grand opera.  Unfortunately, despite all of this initial enthusiasm and work, his initial conversations were not positive, the subject matter did not interest them.  Chabrier, deeply disappointed soon found Claretie lost interest in the project, was not working to finish the libretto and eventually he stopped responding to Chabrier’s  attempts to contact him.  Chabrier bemoaned to his friends that if Saint-Saëns, or Massenet had proposed the project to the writer, that he would have happily have worked with them due to their reputations.  Despite this, Chabrier would spend time during his short life working on and off on the opera.  Paralysis from syphilis would eventually take Chabrier’s life at ther age of 54 and several years later it would claim his wife.  It was noted that one of the things found on Chabrier’s working pile at the time of his death was the incomplete score to “Les Muscadins”.


Armand Silvestre collaborated with Chabrier on several opera projects, “Le Sabbat” in 1877 which remains incomplete and “Les Muscadins” from 1880-1881 which remains incomplete. He also collaborated with Claretie in 1878 on an opera called “Les Girondins” which he rolled into “Les Muscadins”.  Silvestre was a successful poet and a member of the Parnassians.  Like Chabrier, he had a government position and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1886 and was made Inspector of Fine Arts in 1892.  His poetry was quite successful with regular publications of his anthologies of verse.  George Sand wrote a preface to one.  Composers set his verse and libretti to music; Delibes and Fauré wrote chansons to his verse, while Massenet (Griselidis), Saint-Saëns (Henry VIII), Godard (Jocelyn), Pierné (Salomé), Joncieres (Dimitri) Littolf (Les Templiers) and de Lara (Messaline) are just a sampling of some of his most important opera libretti.  


A most significant and historical letter regarding one of Chabrier’s early opera collaborations and one that haunted his throughout his short life.