The Prix de Rome was an annual award for French artists to study in Rome for a year first set up by Louis XIV in 1663(!), though the award for composition only started in 1803, lasting 165 years until 1968. One of the tests for applicants was to set a chosen text to music.
I first learned about these Prix de Rome cantatas through Berlioz, who created 4 such cantatas before finally winning a joint award in 1830 with a score he later destroyed. La Mort de Cleopatre is the most popular of these cantatas nowadays, even though no first prize was awarded that year; it’s sung above by soparno Dame Gwyneth Jones. Naxos has a CD with all four of these cantatas, available here…
I was having a hard time finding multiple setting of any one text until I finally found two records of two settings of the 1901 text, Myrrha. First off is the winning composition by someone totally new to me, André Caplet, available on another Naxos CD of Prix de Rome cantatas by Caplet, Ravel, and Debussy, all part of the same turn-of-the-century artistic milieu.
Reading lists of art award recipients years after the fact is always interesting… Makes you wonder how good time is at weeding out artists and how many people are unfairly neglected… I guess that’s why I like musical archaeology, rediscovering forgotten artists and fleshing out our understanding of their time period… ANYWAY. Enjoy your Sunday!