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Who Set It Best: "Mandoline" (Paul Verlaine)

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

The poem "Mandoline" by Paul Verlaine has been turned into song form by several composers. Learn about the poem and listen to our selection of musical settings! Which one is your favourite?

The Poem

Paul Verlaine published his "Fêtes galantes" collection of poems in 1869. The collection was inspired by characters and scenes from the commedia dell’arte (a form of Italian theatre) and the pastoral (depicting the life of shepherds) paintings of 18th-century artists.

"Mandoline" was inspired by paintings by Antoine Watteau. In the poem, the reader (or listener) is a party guest, discovering the party through each stanza (group of lines)! The first stanza is a distant observation of the serenaders/the listeners. The second stanza gets more personal, introducing the pastoral characters of Tircis, Aminta, Clitandre, and Damis. The third stanza picks out details of the characters and their appearances. The fourth and final stanza describes the music and the dancing, with nature providing a lovely backdrop.

Antoine Watteau - "La Perspective"

The text is as follows:

Les donneurs de sérénades (Those who serenade) Et les belles écouteuses (And the beautiful listeners) Echangent des propos fades (Exchange dull words) Sous les ramures chanteuses. (Under the singing branches)

C'est Tircis et c'est Aminte, (It's Tircis and Aminte) Et c'est l'éternel Clitandre, (And it's the eternal Clitandre) Et c'est Damis qui pour mainte (And it's Damis, who for many a) Cruelle fait maint vers tendre. (Cruel woman writes many a tender verse)

Leurs courtes vestes de soie, (Their short silk vests) Leurs longues robes à queues, (Their long dresses with trains) Leur élégance, leur joie (Their elegance, their joy) Et leurs molles ombres bleues (And their soft, blue shadows)

Tourbillonnent dans l'extase (They whirl around in ecstasy) D'une lune rose et grise, (Of a pink and grey moon) Et la mandoline jase (And the mandolin prattles) Parmi les frissons de brise. (Among the shivering breezes)



Multiple composers have set this text to music. Have a listen to our four selections, and let us know which is your favourite!

  • Gabriel Fauré

  • Claude Debussy

  • Reynaldo Hahn

  • Poldowski


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