Vincentian Collections > The Story > Footnotes > “À Saint-Lazare”: A song by Aristide Bruant
The popular image of Saint-Lazare prison at the turn of the twentieth century is brilliantly captured in the chanson réaliste song À Saint-Lazare by the Parisian singer-songwriter-writer and early recording artist Aristide Bruant (1851-1925).
Louis-Armand-Aristide Bruant, whose image was immortalized in a famous poster painted by his friend Toulouse-Lautrec, came to Paris in 1866. Making his home in the Montmartre Quarter he frequented the local working-class bistros absorbing the hard-edged experiences of daily life there. He began appearing at the famous Le Chat Noir club and adopted the stage name of Aristide Bruant and his signature “look” consisting of a black velvet jacket, red shirt, long red scarf, and high boots. He quickly rose to pop-stardom and opened his own successful nightclub Le Mirliton. In this milieu, he attracted members of the upper classes who were excited by the experience of “slumming” in this famously bohemian quarter. He became well-known for the witty and insulting way that he treated his audiences, to their great feigned-shock and delight.
Through his songs, poems, and later early sound recordings Bruant immortalized the day-to-day life and “apache” atmosphere of Belle Epoque Paris. His commanding aesthetic sense was also expressed in his memorable collaborations with artists such as Lautrec and Alexander Steinlen whose illustrations and posters promoting Bruant and his work also perfectly captured the City of Lights at the dawn of the twentieth century.
The song À Saint-Lazare was published in a series entitled Dans les Rues that included such other songs as À la Roquette, À la Bastille, and À Grenelle. It tells the story of a Parisian prostitute who has been found to have a venereal disease and is being held for treatment at Saint-Lazare. She won’t be released until she is cured. She writes a letter from prison to her pimp:
The recording of À Saint-Lazare which accompanies this exhibition features Corey Fretz, Soprano, accompanied by Brad Robin on the piano. It was produced and recorded by Thomas Miller.