It's been a while since I posted and I think the whole French music thing is moving on now, but I meant to write a bit of a post-countdown thing so here it is. Mostly I was interested in checking out some of the composers whose names kept coming up but whose music didn't make the countdown. From my viewpoint Henri Duparc was by far the most-mentioned no-show so let's start there.
Just a quick look on Wikipedia tells me a talented man ended up with a tragic life. A neurological condition stopped him from composing in his late 30s and sent him slowly blind. And in that tragic circumstance and who knows what else, he destroyed a lot of his work.
He was usually mentioned in terms of his songs and indeed the list only let you vote for songs he wrote. I confess to having no real interest in listening to them, but he did write some orchestral and piano music. Sadly a lot of this is lost, but there is his symphonic poem Lenore, based on a Gothic ballad about Death riding a lover to his grave - she thinking him a knight leading her to their marriage bed. While it conveys the haste of the ride and is dramatic and certainly a fine piece of music, it isn't quite as dark as its morbid subject matter would suggest. That said, it is very much a Romantic piece, and the sorrowful revelation, the slow and soft conclusion as Lenore learns of her lover's death and dies herself is quite chill and haunting.
There is also his Aux Etoiles, which seems to have had two lives at the least. It seems to be the only surviving part of a symphonic poem written in 1874, and the Entracte for an unpublished play, for which it seems to have been written in 1911, the same year he released a solo piano reduction of the work. Given this is all coming from Wiki which says he stopped writing in 1885, I assume the Entracte phase was a salvage job, 'here's something I wrote earlier that might suit'. That or there are two works with the same name by the same man, and Wiki is missing some vital information.
Whatever the case, it is sublimely beautiful. Aux Etoiles apparently translates to "To the Stars" and the gentle music does have the sense of floating in the eternity of space with the stars shining all around you. It's very evocative.
I said composers, but for now at least I think I'll leave it at just Duparc. Anything after that last piece is superfluous. Listen to it and swoon away.