"Il Pleure Dans Mon Coeur": Verlaine, Debussy, Kodály

By Komlós, Katalin | Studia Musicologica, December 2017 | Go to article overview

"Il Pleure Dans Mon Coeur": Verlaine, Debussy, Kodály


Komlós, Katalin, Studia Musicologica


The well-known poem by Paul Verlaine, Il pleure dans mon coeur, was published in 1874, as no. 3 in the album Romances sans paroles. The magician of the words, Verlaine conjures up a metaphor-like simile between weeping and raining: the tears of the heart are compared to the raindrops on the street (see the original text, and the English translation in Table 1). The poem was set to music by several composers, including Fauré, Delius, and Florent Schmitt; the most famous setting, nevertheless, is by Debussy.

The literary movement of the French Symbolism informed Debussy's style to a degree; Verlaine's poetry was particularly close to him. Apart from some single songs, he set texts by Verlaine in two of his cycles: Ariettes oubliées (1888), and Fetes galantes I-II (1892; 1904). Il pleure dans mon coeur is no. 2 in the Ariettes oubliées. Interestingly, the song bears a motto by Arthur Rimbaud, printed above the score ("Il pleut doucement sur la ville"), showing that the inspiration for the poetic thought originally came from Verlaine's younger colleague.

It seems that Debussy's song responds to the opening line, rather than the second line of the text. The quiet, pianissimo murmur of the right-hand figuration of the piano part, marked con sord., evokes the sound of soft rain, alias gentle tears, in the lachrymose key of G-sharp minor. "Triste et monotone" reads the performance instruction at the head of the piece. The slow-moving legato melody is in the left hand all through the song, at times together with the sad line of the voice part.

The words of Verlaine's poem are used rather unexpectedly as a motto for a short piano piece written in 1910: the composer is Zoltán Kodály. Actually, the motto or title in the printed editions produces a garbled history. (Unfortunately, no autograph by Kodály's hand survives.)1 The first edition by Universal bears the title II pleut dans la ville, without the name of Verlaine. The subsequent Universal editions, and all the later Hungarian editions are titled Il pleut dans mon coeur / comme il pleut sur la ville, and print the name of Verlaine in parenthesis, underneath. This is, however, a corrupted version of Verlaine's text: the initial "Il pleut," instead of "Il pleure," abolishes the poetic parallel of "weeping" and "raining." Whether Kodály deliberately changed the crucial verb or not, is impossible to say now. At any rate, the original title of the first edition (Il pleut dans la ville) explains the generally used Hungarian title of the piece, Esik a városban. Indeed, the persistent staccato "drops" of the right hand on the unaccented beats illustrate the patter of the rain on the pavement. The melodic line, as in Debussy's song, is carried by the left hand; the tempo indication is Allegretto malinconico (see the content of Debussy's song cycle and Kodály's op. 11 set in Table 2).

The poetic motto makes clear the inspiration behind the piece. Owing to a scholarship, the 24-year old Kodály spent several months in Paris in 1907, and the impressions of French art - the music of Debussy in particular - acted as a revelation for his artistic development. "Keep this name in your mind: Claude Monet. The greatest landscape painter in the world," he wrote to Emma Gruber in a letter from Paris, in June 1907.2 In another letter to Emma, from later in the year, he imparts: "After I had read through this Verlaine volume, strange distant sounds arose in me."3 The liberating influence of Paris, with its musical, literary, and painterly experiences, was a decisive factor in the career of many young Hungarian artists of the period - Csók, Rippl-Rónai, Ady, and others.

At the time of his last visit to the French capital, the 83-year old Kodály remembered his youthful experiences in an interview for the Phonoteque Nationale; the reporter of the conversation was Mária Körösi:

MK: As far as I know, you visited Paris already at the beginning of the century as a student, and participated in the classes of Widor at the Conservatoire. …

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