Meet the Composers of La Belle Époque, Part 2

The golden age of French artistic creativity, ‘la belle époque’, is the setting for the first concert of the 2017 season for the Sydney University Graduate Choir on the 21st May 2017. In this final instalment in a two part series, we’ll meet the composers Franck, Bowen and the poetic genius Rimbaud.

La Belle Époque, the first Sydney University Graduate Choir concert for 2017 offers a French themed programme drawing on the time between the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Marked by optimism, prosperity and technological, scientific and cultural innovation, this period came to be regarded as a Golden Age when artistic pursuits flourished.

At the end of our first instalment we met the composer Gabriel Fauré, whose Racine Canticle was dedicated to the third composer on our program, César Franck. Franck composed a setting of Psalm 150 (in French, Psaume CL), the piece to be performed in the La Belle Époque concert.

Franck (1822-90) became a French citizen and artist, having been born in Liège, now the largest French-speaking city of Belgium.  There is an established tradition of Belgian artists achieving fame and fortune in France (Georges Simenon, author of the series of novels about the archetypically Parisian Maigret is  a good twentieth century example, as are the popular singer Jacques Brel, the  artist René Magritte and cartoonist Prosper Remi, known as Hergé, creator of the marvellous Tintin comics). By the later part of his life, Franck had achieved a successful career as a Frenchman and became an influential figure with younger French composers.

In the last decade of his life, Franck produced several masterpieces, which represent the best part of his legacy: the piano solo, Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, the Piano Quintet, the Violin Sonata, the Symphony in D Minor, the symphonic poem, Le Chasseur Maudit, the Variations Symphoniques for piano and orchestra and the oratorio, Les Béatitudes.

The Psalm 150, to be performed in concert by the Grad Choir, was composed in 1883 but published posthumously. It conveys a sense of joyous celebration, appropriate to its text, and has something of the spirit of La Marseillaise about it.

The final work of the concert is not by a French composer.  It is a setting of the hair-raising prose poem, Démocratie, one of the constituent parts of Les Illuminations, the major work of the teenage evil genius, Arthur Rimbaud, and is composed by the Choir’s Music Director, Christopher Bowen OAM. This work was premiered by the Grad Choir in 2002, and now finds itself in the La Belle Époque concert programme given the text and its author.

Rimbaud (1854-1891) lived one of the most astonishing lives of any figure in world literature.  He had written his entire body of work by the time he was twenty-one and spent the rest of his short life travelling in Southeast Asia and Africa, where, among other things, he became a gun-runner.

In Démocratie, Rimbaud imagines a political world that reflects many aspects our modern political landscape, which is an amazing achievement for a French teenager writing before 1900.

Bowens’ musical imagination is clearly ignited by this remarkable text and the score is marked by frequent changes of tempo, syncopation, swinging rhythms and a choral part that ranges from whispered injunctions to shouts of defiance.

Sydney based composer/conductor Christopher Bowen OAM, is one of Australia’s most prolific composers and versatile musicians. As an orchestral/choral conductor he has an enormous repertoire, embracing all genres of music. He is also known for his skills as an expert arranger, pianist, vocal coach and clinician, and is proficient in languages.

Over the years, his striking and thought provoking compositions combined with innovative concert programming have introduced both audiences and performers to a unique and inspirational world of music.

The Choir is delighted to be performing his stirring composition, and importantly, the performance marks the 25th anniversary of Christopher Bowens’ appointment as Musical Director of the Sydney University Graduate Choir.


Enjoy La Belle Époque with the Sydney University Graduate Choir!

WHEN:  3:00pm, Sunday, 21 May 2017

WHERE:  The Great Hall, Sydney University

Music Director:

Christopher Bowen OAM


Elke Hook (Soprano)

Barbara Jin (Alto)

Andrew Goodwin (Tenor)

Simon Lobelson (Bass)


Peter Kneeshaw


Démocratie – Christopher Bowen

Requiem – Camille Saint-Saëns

Psalm 150 – César Franck

Pavane – Gabriel Fauré


$50 Adults

$45 Full Pensioners (Not seniors cards)

$25 Full time students and children under 16 years.

TICKETS: Seymour Centre Box Office – ph 02 9351 7950 or online

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