“Sounds and scents turn in the evening air”: Sense and synaesthesia in popular song settings of Baudelaire’s “Evening Harmony”

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In Baudelaire’s poetry, as in popular music, the night can be understood as a unifying force, which draws together the various strands of sensory experience in a “ténébreuse et profonde unité” (“a deep and shadowy unity”), which often tends towards the supernatural. This chapter considers how the theme of the night has been appropriated and reformulated in two modern settings of Baudelaire’s “Harmonie du Soir”, both by female composers/performers. The first, an avant-garde electronica setting by Ruth White appeared in 1969, as part of her album Flowers of Evil, which features 9 songs, based on English translations of poems by Baudelaire; the second is an acoustic folk setting, in the original French, by Franco-Arabic singer Nawel Ben Kraïem. Using Franz Liszt’s understanding of the music ‘nocturne’ form as a starting point, this chapter examines the way in which the sensory and synaesthetic dimension to evening is performed and embodied in these two ‘popular’ song settings. In doing so, the chapter seeks to contribute to understanding of the importance of popular settings of Baudelaire’s poetry in shaping the reception history of his works, as well as pointing to the fundamental importance of understanding how texts and themes are performed in popular music culture, with important implications for our understanding of interart dialogue in which popular music is engaged.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNocturnes
Subtitle of host publicationPopular music and the night
EditorsGeoff Stahl, Giacomo Botta
ISBN (Electronic)9783319997865
ISBN (Print)9783319997858
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2019


  • Baudelaire
  • Poetry
  • Night
  • Nocturne
  • Adaptation
  • Song
  • Music
  • Popular Music
  • French


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