Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Flanerie - a view of Paris

An imagined serendipitous journey through Paris's streets, past and present, told through its literature and music, with the actors Tamsin Greig and Neil Pearson.

An imagined serendipitous journey through Paris's streets, past and present, told through its literature and music, with the actors Tamsin Greig and Neil Pearson

The Flâneur - "that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps".

It was Baudelaire, in his "Fleurs du Mal" in the late 19th century, who created flânerie as a literary ideal for evoking the patterns and emotions of modern urban life in Paris; but the concept of the detached observer - casual, directionless, voyeuristic - who finds refuge within the crowded streets of the capital, had been around for some time. Balzac, writing in the years before the advent of Haussman's modern cityscape, had described flânerie as "the gastronomy of the eye". Later, the German writer and social-critic, Walter Benjamin, would use the experiences of the Parisian flâneur as illustrations for socio-political commentary.

In this edition of Words and Music, we - much in the spirit of the flâneur - take a casual musical and literary journey through Paris's imagined streets. Glimpses of buildings bring to mind the city's great history and its inhabitants; its poets, writers and composers. Imagine sauntering past Notre Dame and the neighbouring university: and the ribaldry of medieval Paris fills the mind's eye, evoking the words of Villon and Rabelais; of Victor Hugo describing the medieval skyline and the festive sound of the medieval bells.

Next on to the Louvre and the Marais, and echoes of the grandeur of Paris during the age of the Sun King; of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévingné's famous letters; of the music of Lully and Charpentier. Turn another corner, and find the youthful Marin Marais, lost and bewildered by the banks of the Seine - his voice, post-pubescent - his services no longer required in the Royal Chapel.

A hundred years on, and in the wretched area of Sainte-Antoine, Charles Dickens watches the abject poor seemingly rehearse events for one the city's least glorious moments; their hands and clothes stained with red wine, like blood.

Balzac lists the varied "physiognomy" of the Parisian back streets in the years just before Haussmann re-invented the city - we follow him into some of Paris's more forbidding and darker haunts; while later - into the Belle Époque and beyond - coursing among the newer buildings, parks and thoroughfares - Baudelaire, Proust and Zola observe Parisian life with a multitude of senses and a painterly eye. As do Fauré, Verlaine and Debussy.

"Among all cities, there is none more associated with the book than Paris", wrote Walter Benjamin. Ernest Hemingway finds refuge in one of the city's necessary cafes, watching and transcribing, while Beria and Bechet set the same thoughts to music.

Finally, our serendipitous journey presents an aspect of the modern Paris: not the beautiful; nor the bustling, fashionable and vibrant; but urban nonetheless. The city at its edge - people at the periphery. The world in the Banlieue: of graffiti and the blues.

1 hour, 14 minutes

Last on

Sun 17 Feb 2019 18:15

Music Played

Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • 00:00

    Frederick Delius

    Paris: Song of a Great City

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox (conductor).
    • EMI 49932.
    • Tr 3.
  • EE Cummings

    “Paris; the April sunset completely utters”, read by Neil Pearson

  • Edmund White

    “The Flaneur - A stroll through the paradoxes of Paris, read by Tamsin Greig and Neil Pearson

  • 00:06

    Guillaume de Machaut

    Messe de Notre Dame - Kyrie

    Performer: The Hilliard Ensemble, Paul Hillier (conductor).
    • Hyperion CDA 66358.
    • Tr 1.
  • François Rabelais

    Pantagruel and Gargantua, read by Neil Pearson

  • 00:09

    Claude Debussy

    Trois Ballades de François Villon

    Performer: Christopher Maltman (baritone), Malcolm Martineau (piano).
    • Hyperion CDA67357.
    • Tr 21.
  • 00:11

    Clément Janequin

    Voulez ouyr les cris de Paris

    Performer: Ensemble Clément Janequin.
    • Harmonia Mundi HMT901072.
    • Tr 1.
  • Victor Hugo

    The Hunchback of Notre Dame (excerpt), read by Tamsin Greig

  • 00:12

    Frederick Delius

    Paris: Song of a Great City

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox (conductor).
    • EMI 49932.
    • Tr 3.
  • 00:14

    Jean‐Baptiste Lully

    Overture and Act 3 Scene 4, ‘Le Sommeil’

    Singer: Gilles Ragon (Counter tenor). Ensemble: Les Arts Florissants. Conductor: William Christie.
    • HARMONIA MUNDI 7488192632.
    • Tr 1.
  • The Letters of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévingné

    Excerpt read by Tamsin Greig

  • Pascal Quignard

    All the Mornings of the world (excerpt), read by Neil Pearson

  • 00:24

    Marin Marais

    Pieces de Viole: Book 4 ‘Le Reveuse’

    Performer: Jordi Savall (viole).
    • ALIA VOX AVSA9872.
    • CD4 Tr8.
  • 00:28

    Jean-Baptiste Davaux

    Symphonie Concertante Mêlée D'Airs Patriotiques for 2 violins & orchestra in G - 1st mvt

    Performer: Werner Ehrhardt (violin), Andrea Keller (violin), Concerto Köln.
    • CAPRICCIO 10280.
    • Tr1.
  • Charles Dickens

    A Tale of Two Cities (excerpt), read by Tamsin Greig

  • 00:34

    Hector Berlioz

    Lélio, Op. 14b - Movement V: La harpe éolienne

    Performer: Berlin Komische Oper Orchestra, Rolf Reuter (conductor).
    • BERLIN CLASSICS 002149BC.
    • Tr 10.
  • 00:37

    Giacomo Puccini

    La Boheme - Act 2 Opening

    Performer: Orchestra e coro dell'Accademia di Santa Ceclia, Tullio Serafin (conductor).
    • DECCA 4255342.
    • Tr 11.
  • Balzac

    Ferragus (excerpt), read by Neil Pearson

  • 00:38

    Frédéric Chopin

    Piano Sonata No 2 in Bb minor Op35 - 4. Finale

    Performer: Nikita Magaloff (piano).
    • PHILIPS 456 376-2.
    • Tr8.
  • 00:40

    Giacomo Puccini

    La Boheme - Act 3 duet "Mimi - Speravo di trovarvi qui"

    Performer: Renata Tebaldi (soprano), Ettore Bestianini (baritone), Orchestra e coro dell'Accademia di Santa Ceclia, Tullio Serafin (conductor).
    • DECCA 4255342.
    • CD2 Tr3.
  • 00:45

    Frederick Delius

    Paris: Song of a Great City

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox (conductor).
    • EMI 49932.
    • Tr 3.
  • Baudelaire

    Fleurs du Mal: ‘To a Passer-By’, read by Tamsin Greig and Neil Pearson

  • 00:46

    Gabriel Fauré

    La bonne chanson, Op 61 - III "La lune blanche luit dans les bois"

    Performer: Camille Maurane (baritone), Lily Bienvenu (piano).
    • PHILIPS 438 970 -2.
    • Tr 10.
  • 00:49

    Claude Debussy

    Petite Suite - I. En Bateau (orchestrated by Henri Büsser)

    Performer: Orchestre. National de L'O.R.T.F, Jean Martinon (conductor).
    • EMI CDM7695892.
    • Tr 7.
  • Marcel Proust

    Swann’s Way I (Vol. 1 of “Remembrance of Things Past”), read by Neil Pearson

  • 00:53

    Jacques Offenbach

    Overture "La Belle Hélène"

    Performer: City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Louis Frémaux (conductor).
    • EMI CDM7630242.
    • Tr 14.
  • Emile Zola

    The Ladies Delight, read by Tamsin Greig

  • 00:57

    Gustave Charpentier

    Louise Act 3 - "Depuis le jour"

    Singer: Ileana Cotrubaș. Singer: Plácido Domingo. Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra. Conductor: Georges Prêtre.
    • SONY S3K 46429.
    • 11.
  • 01:01

    Danse les Musettes a Paris

    "Danse les Musettes a Paris"

    Performer: Germaine Beria, Les Vagabonds.
    • FREMEAUX & ASSOCIÉS FA 005.
    • Tr 2.
  • Ernest Hemingway

    A Moveable Feast (excerpt), read by Neil Pearson

  • 01:02

    Sidney Bechet

    Petite Fleur

    Performer: Sidney Bechet.
    • EUROPE 1710440.
    • Tr 5.
  • Jeanine Basinger

    "A Woman's View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960", (excerpt) read by Tamsin Greig

  • 01:06

    U&G Hermosa

    La Lambada

    Performer: Koama.
    • TELSTAR TTVCD3067.
    • CD2 Tr 8.
  • Mehdi Charef

    Tea in the Harem (excerpt), read by Tamsin Greig

  • 01:07

    Jacques Higelin

    Banlieue Boogie Blues

    Performer: Jacques Higelin.
    • EMI 796482.
    • Tr 2.
  • 01:12

    Frederick Delius

    Paris: Song of a Great City

    Performer: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Richard Hickox (conductor).
    • EMI 49932.
    • Tr 3.
  • James Fenton

    In Paris with you (excerpt), read by Neil Pearson

Producer's Note

The Flâneur - "that aimless stroller who loses himself in the crowd, who has no destination and goes wherever caprice or curiosity directs his or her steps".

 

It was Baudelaire, in his "Fleurs du Mal" in the late 19th century,  who created flâneurie as a literary ideal for evoking the patterns and emotions of modern urban life in Paris; but the concept of the detached observer - casual, directionless, voyeuristic - who finds refuge within the crowded streets of the capital, had been around for some time. Balzac, writing in the years before the advent of Haussman's modern cityscape, had described flâneurie as "the gastronomy of the eye". Later, the German writer and social-critic, Walter Benjamin, would use the experiences of the Parisian flâneur as illustrations for socio-political commentary.

 

In this edition of Words and Music, we - much in the spirit of the flâneur - take a casual  musical and literary journey through Paris's imagined streets. Glimpses of buildings bring to mind the city's great history and its inhabitants; its poets, writers and composers. Imagine sauntering past Notre Dame and the neighbouring university: and the ribaldry of medieval Paris fills the mind's eye, evoking the words of Villon and Rabelais; of Victor Hugo describing the medieval skyline and the festive sound of the medieval bells.

 

Next on to the Louvre and the Marais, and echoes of the grandeur of Paris during the age of the Sun King;  of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal de Sévingné's famous letters; of the music of Lully and Charpentier. Turn another corner, and find the youthful Marin Marais, lost and bewildered by the banks of the Seine - his voice, post-pubescent - his services no longer required in the Royal Chapel.

 

A hundred years on, and in the wretched area of Sainte-Antoine, Charles Dickens watches the abject poor seemingly rehearse events for one the city's least glorious moments; their hands and clothes stained with red wine, like blood.

 

Balzac lists the varied "physiognomy" of the Parisian back streets in the years just before Haussmann re-invented the city - we follow him into some of Paris's more forbidding and darker haunts; while later - into the Belle Époque and beyond - coursing among the newer buildings, parks and thoroughfares - Baudelaire, Proust and Zola observe Parisian life with a multitude of senses and a painterly eye. As do Fauré, Verlaine and Debussy.

 

"Among all cities, there is none more associated with the book than Paris", wrote Walter Benjamin. Ernest Hemingway finds refuge in one of the city's necessary cafes, watching and transcribing, while Beria and Bechet set the same thoughts to music.

 

Finally, our serendipitous journey presents an aspect of the modern Paris. Not the beautiful; nor the bustling, fashionable and vibrant; but urban nonetheless. The city at its edge - people at the periphery. The world in the Banlieue: of graffiti and the blues.


Chris Wines (producer)

Broadcasts

Featured in...

The hidden history of plant-based diets

The hidden history of plant-based diets

Forget social media influencers - the meat-free movement started with the Victorians.

Books website

Books website

Get closer to books with in-depth articles, quizzes and our picks from radio & TV.

Gallery