LA TOUR DE FARGES
On the road from Lunel Viel to St Genies des Mourgues, at the summit of a hill surrounded by the famous Muscatel vines, a small grove hides La Tour de Farges.
The recorded history of the Tour de Farges begins in the 16th century when the property belonged to Jacques de Farges, apothecary and perfumer, master of the Platter brothers. His city residence occupied what is today the “Square de la Prefecture” which is where he had the honour of receiving King Charles IX in 1564 who came to visit his natural history museum and his antique collection.
Jacques de la Farges died violently five years later, hung from the central beam of his home after looting and rioting during the religious conflicts.
Only two towers remain of the original structure, one of which was a pigeon house. The third tower on the estate was built in the 19th century and was part of the Chappe telegraph network.
Still visited today, a crucifix marks the former site of a small town “Montles” on the side of the hill. It is one of many towns to mysteriously disappear during the Middle Ages.
Since the end of the XVIII century the Tour de Farges has belonged to the Sabatier d’Espeyran family and today belongs to Irene Sabatier d’Espeyran-Roussel. The proprietor during the 19th century, François Sabatier, was a well known patron of the arts who like Fabre, Bruyas, Valdeau and so man others was a friend of many talented artists.
It was in Florence that François met the famous Viennese singer Caroline Ungher. Chosen by Beethoven to premiere his 9th symphony, she was especially appreciated in Vienna for her Cherubin in “le Nozze di Figaro”. In 1832 in Paris she performed Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Théâtre des Italiens and was idolized in Florence at the théâtre de la Pergola in “Semiramis” and “il Barbieri de Seville”. They were married in 1840 and as with Fabre and the Duchess of Albany, through this marriage Florence and Montpellier were once more united by art and love. The couple lived in Fiesole, Dresden and finally at the Tour de Farges where they lived in tender and melancholy love.
A man of literary talent François Sabatier wrote a translation of Goethe’s Faust respecting the original metric structure. His translation is still considered an authoritative reference today second only to that of Gerard Nerval.
Patron and lover of the arts, he was often in the company of avant-garde young artists in Paris and frequently invited them to stay at the Tour de Farges. He became close friends with De Veria, Papety a student of Ingres ( painter from Marseille who died of cholera)the romantic Ricard whose works of delicate charm can be seen in the Musée Fabre, and Courbet whose portrait of Sabatier was long thought to be of Prudhon, (which goes to show that one beard looks a lot like another beard). Courbet also painted a subtle landscape of the Tour de Farges .
These painters came to the Tour de Farges, where they worked and absorbed the influence of the subtle light which permeates the province. If in their work they obeyed the tyrannical influences of the period they also knew to respect the slow, intimate play of the light upon the landscape of the Languedoc region. This can especially be seen in the canvases of Courbet. This same subtle play of light would a few years later be recognized in the celebrated work of Frederic Bazille.
Caroline Ungher, having given up the stage at the peak of her career for the sake of love, welcomed the visits of lyric artists who came to study with her and to hear her sumptuous contralto. At the Tour de Farges they shared song and chamber music in an artistic Eden.
Often the steam train from Nîmes would stop in the station Lunel Viel to let off three young blond beauties. Their crinoline at the height of fashion, embroidered gloves and flowered cloaks amazed and delighted the local women in their becoming but rustic traditional costume. The new arrivals, the sisters Klaus and Lily Lehmann could be heard in the evenings, their sweet voices floating out over the sleeping countryside accompanied by the song of the crickets in the still warm fields.
A place filled with creative spirit and taste the Tour de Farges was an international cultural salon of song and academy of romantic painting.
One day a pale intense man arrived in a ramshackle wagon asking his way to the marshes. Studying the landscape like a poet, scrutinising it like a scientist the sight of the village filled his eyes with light and memories. The silent, enigmatic visitor was none other than Jules Michelet, and the villagers waved him off as the cart trotted away to the Tour de Farges. Another winter morning a powerful, vigorous man got of the train. Coughing and asthmatic in the cold air, his piercing motionless eyes, his beard and long hair indicated a mind strained by the permanent effort of thought. He had the calm, peaceful air of a philosophy professor. Taking a ticket from his wallet and offering it politely to the intrigued station master he asked with a strong German accent if it was far to the Tour de Farges. However the coach driver was already there and the station master heard only the name. He wasn’t one of the famous painters, actors, or one of the writers that he was used to welcoming. He simply said to the coach driver “Pardon, my friend, isn’t it me you are looking for? I’m Karl Marx.” He who with Engles had just published the communist manifesto and was carrying his famous work “Das Kapital” He had come to spend a few days with his friend Sabatier, share his troubles, discuss his revolution, and ask his help following the deportation acts that were pursuing him in France, Germany and Belgium, before going to London. This event gave to the Tour de Farges an almost religious renown and is another example of the surprising meetings that have taken place over the years in the Languedoc.
There is no doubt that there are places with a destiny. Just yesterday a great singer chose the Tour de Farges for her retirement. There until her last days, Jeanne Cross found the triumphant echo of the opera and the delicate memories of the languedocien “félibre Roux”.
Caroline was born in Vienna the 28th October 1803. Her father Johann Karl, originally from Zips, Hungary, having considered becoming a priest finally decided to study law. (born?-23/3/1877 Florence)
Tutor to the Baron de Forgacs, he later became steward to the Baron de Hackelberg-Landau and married Anna Cavarese, the Baroness Karminsky. A lover of music and poetry, he was active in the artistic world of Vienna and became friends with Beethoven and Caroline Pichler –who became the godmother of his only child.
Caroline Ungher showed an early appreciation of music and she had the best teachers “But how could I have resisted the beauties of music? Mozart’s sister in law Madame Lang, was my singing teacher, Mozart’s son my piano teacher. My composition teacher was Vogel, for whom Schubert wrote “Der Erlkönig”. I lived in a period where in Vienna it was possible to hear and study music of the highest level.” (letter from C.Ungher) It wouldn’t have been enough if Caroline hadn’t had lessons in bel canto from Mozatti in Vienna and from Domenico Roncoui in Milan. Encouraged by Beethoven, at 15 Caroline was in demand for religious and private concerts. She overcame her father’s reticence and was hired at the Kärnthner Thortheater. Her first performance as Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte (24 Feruary 1821) was not a huge success but she quickly gained the stage experience necessary to rival the great singers of her time, Theresa Fodor and Henriette Sonntag. Without being traditionally beautiful, she had a pleasing face, graceful bearing, and a simple, natural stage presence. Above all she had an instinct for both comic and tragic dramatic expression (see Friesen, Hermann von, Ludwig Tieck, Erinnerungen eines alten Freundes… Wien, Braumüller, 1871, t.I,p129). It was Caroline with Henriette Sontag (the witches) who were chosen by Beethoven for the creation of the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis (1 May 1824). Their first meeting gave a taste of their future relation: “two singers came to visit today and as they insisted on kissing my hands and as they were both quite charming I suggested that instead they kiss my lips” (Beethoven, letter to his brother, 8 September 1822).
Between 1821 and 1825 Caroline’s reputation was such that she was engaged by the director of San Carlo of Naples. She accepted the challenge, to triumph in the motherland that cradled bel canto; equal to Grisi, La Pasta, and Malibran, she toured the major Italian cities acclaimed everywhere she went. Described by Rossini as possessing “the ardour of the south, the energy of the north, a chest of bronze, a voice of silver, and a talent of gold” she premiered many of the works of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti.
She only went briefly to Paris, during the carnival of 1834 when she sang Zerlina in Don Giovanni. She met Dumas, but at that time all his passion was spent on Marie Dorval, and he hardly noticed her. Rich and fêted she wasn’t lacking suitors: we know of Ruolz, Dumas and also the dramatic poet E.S. von Holbein. She was also loved by another poet, Nicholas Lenau. (“a tragic blood flows in the veins of this woman. Her singing awakens in my heart a storm of suffering”) They were engaged in Ischl (summer 1839), but he was never able to break off a relationship that he had with the wife of the General Director of the Austrian Post, Sophie de Löwenthal. Overcome by her fits of jealousy he burst in on Caroline demanding all his love letters and ran off without another word. In grief Caroline took refuge in Rome. She was saved by her curiosity: Daguerre had just invented photography. A young French man had brought to Rome a daguerreotype and Caroline fascinated sent her friend the painter Charles Henri Lehmann (Kiel 1814-Paris 1882) to fetch the equipment and the young man. His name was François Sabatier (Montpellier 2 February 1818) and was 16 years younger than Caroline. Orphan of a squire from the Languedoc, carelessly raised by an uncle, and left primarily to his own devices he had thrown himself with energy into painting. He was on a ritual voyage to Italy. Caroline loved his long black curls that fell to his shoulders. They were married the 18th of March in 1841. Caroline couldn’t abandon the stage immediately; she had many contracts in Germany. The young couple left for Germany, François madly studying German: they met Meyerbeer, Liszt, Schumann, painters, and writers (Tieck in particular). Back in Italy they moved to Florence where Caroline bought a palace, “La Concezione”, near San Miniato. According to Caroline she was from then on “a passionate innkeeper” welcoming friends and guests, either to Florence, to the castle Tour de Farges or finally to Paris.
Was Dumas one of their guests? No doubt in Florence when he was living there himself, definitely in Paris from 1848. Maria D… wasn’t dead in 1855; she probably read “Une aventure d’amour” as an older but still attractive woman. She nevertheless still
loved the man she had married, with his unusual and engaging spirit, and generous heart desperate for justice who had cried one day to Caroline, when an Austrian Lieutenant-Colonel was greeting her: “ Non ardire dare la mano a quell’uomo sanguinaro”.
Caroline died 23 March 1877. François Sabatier d’Espeyran remarried ( Marie Boll, December 1888), but when he was dying in his turn on the first of December 1891, he asked to be buried near Caroline in the cemetery of San Miniato.
As for the viscount Henri de Ruolz (Ferdinand de S…), composer and chemist, Dumas dedicated a bibliographic reference to him: An alchemist in the 19th century (Paris, imprimerie de Paul Dupont, 1843, 23p.in-8 which was occasionally used as the preface to La Villa Palmieri (Paris, Dolin, 1843 ; Paris, Boulé, 1847)). What he considered to be an unhappy love story hardly troubled the friendship between Ruolz and Dumas.
Twenty nine letters from Caroline Ungher addressed to Alexandre Dumas and sent from Palermo or Venice between 4 October 1835 and March 1836 describe the shipwreck of the adventure.After Alexandre left her in Palermo, Caroline had hoped that he would break off his relationship with Ida in order to return and marry her. This hope diminished as the letters from Alexandre became more and more rare. Caroline left Palermo for Venice where she was performing Bélisaire by Donizetti. To add to her sadness her mother died in Florence, increasing her solitude. She forced herself to believe that her lover would return, taking steps to ensure that he had nothing to fear from the Austrian authorities and weaving tapestries to decorate the furniture of their future home. Soon the silence was complete. Alexandre, taken up by the life of Paris and his relationship with Ida no longer answered her letters. Caroline was forced to face the facts and give up all hope of his return.
If Dumas never saw Caroline again it was definitely his choice. In writing to Hyacinthe Meynier was his off hand manner hiding remorse? “Once again I have been disappointed in everything I had hoped for: only ambition works and you are one of those who have made my heart hard enough to contain it.” (October 1834)
The singer could have taken for herself her lovers complaint. Norma once more had been abandoned.
La Tour de Farges 34400 LUNEL-VIEL
TEL 00.33.4.67.83.01.69 FAX 00 33 18.104.22.168.23 VH 00 33 6.07.49.16.17
Propriétaire Madame Irène Sabatier d'Espeyran épouse de Ph. Roussel