The Art of French Song

Musical Opinion, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Art of French Song


We are delighted that the great International accompanist Roger Vignoles has been delving into Peters Edition's new Volumes for MO.

Volume 1:

High Voice Medium & Low Voice

EP 7519a EP 7519b

L12.95 L12.95

Volume 2:

High Voice Medium &Low Voice

EP 7520a EP 7520b

L12.95 L12.95

One of the best things to happen in music publishing in recent years has been a continual increase in the availability of French song. When I was building my own working library most French songs could only be acquired in hideously expensive copies printed on what appeared to be recycled lavatory paper, in bindings guaranteed to fall apart instantly on contact with the music stand of one's piano. Thankfully, whatever monopolies preserved these inflated prices eventually expired, allowing other, non-French publishers to enter the game, including the American International and Dover Editions, the latter being an excellent source for modestly priced facsimile editions. As a result, even the French houses have begun to modemise their stock, the most notable example being Salabert's recent reissue of all the Poulenc songs to which it held the rights.

Now Peters Edition have come up with this handsomely-produced anthology, which has been selected and edited with characteristic skill, enthusiasm and insight by Roger Nichols. Between them the two Volumes contain 47 songs by 23 composers, offering a broad overview of the repertoire for the newcomer, and for the experienced lover of melodies a number of welcome rarities to set beside more familiar songs by Debussy, Faure and Duparc.

So who gets included? Apart from the three just mentioned there are Berlioz, with Absence from the Nuits dEte Bizet, Gounod, Chausson, including his wonderfully narcotic Le colibri, Saint-Saens and Usar Franck; but, surprisingly, no Ravel, and nothing by a personal favourite of mine, Reynaldo Hahn. The most up-to-date is Poulenc, a relative tenn in this context, of course, worthily represented by his ravishing Fleurs from Fiancailles pour Rire and the exquisite La GrenouillAre, a miniature echo of the boating scenes beloved of Impressionist painters. Also from the earlier 2Dth-Century are Erik Satie, including the deliciously Edward Lear-like Dapheneo, with its pun on noisetier or nut-tree, and oisetier, or bird-tree; Deodat de Severac, whose child's lullaby Ma poupee cherie I shall cherish; and an atmospheric Automne from Honegger.

The collection opens with Niedermeyer's impressive Le lac, which Nichols rightly describes as seminal. Then there are three songs by Pauline Viardot, welcome not least because so many fine songs were written for her to sing; one, Gounod's Le soir, virtually rubs shoulders with her own Les deux roses. Personally I would like to have seen included one of the greatest of all Viardot dedications, Saint-Saens' La Clothe, but in any such anthology impossible choices have to be made, and it's all too easy to quibble at the omission of one's own favourites. Instead, those who enjoy unfamiliar settings of well-known song texts will be able to savour Saint-Saens' version of Chanson Triste, in its chaste transparency a total contrast to the rich texture of the familiar Duparc, which is not included here.

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