French mélodies: Hahn, Dupont, Fauré
The name of Reynaldo Hahn has not made much of a splash since his death in 1947. One fairly large dictionary mentions his songs merely as evincing 'frail, intimate, caressing charm', while a 300-page essay purporting to deal with the French mélodie since Duparc omits him altogether. And yet, in his day he was a highly popular composer and singer, also a distinguished conductor of Mozart operas which he gave shorn both of spurious coloratura and of disfiguring rubato.
Perhaps recordings of his singing haven't helped. He admitted to having only 'a slender thread of a voice', but his use of it was astonishingly vital and persuasive, while his book on singing, Du chant, is nothing less than a masterclass. The fact that he sang mainly in the salons no doubt led all too easily to the assumption that his own songs were no more than light listening. Certainly from his earliest song, 'Si mes vers avaient des ailes', written when he was 15, up until the end of the 19th century, they were tuneful and the harmonies in line with those of his teacher Massenet: both 'Tyndaris' and 'Lydé', from the collection Études latines of 1900, are 'intimate and caressing', though I wouldn't call them 'frail'. His harmonies here may be conventional, but his melodic lines are full of rhythmic surprises and both songs have distinct, complete shapes that tell of a born composer.
With the cycle Les Feuilles blessées, however, Hahn was clearly determined to go further. Whether or not this intention was encouraged by the arrival of a new century, it was certainly connected with his choice of poet. Jean Moréas (1856-1910), born Iannis Papadiamantopoulos, was the author of a Manifesto of Symbolism published in Le Figaro in 1886, to rebut charges of decadence aimed at some of the young French writers. Hahn's response to Moréas's poetry is to make his harmonies more complex and to eschew the caressing melodiousness of the Études latines, beginning with the dense piano chords that open the first song. Thereafter we find chromatic complexities, curiously combined with vocal lines that are little more than recitation. Overall the mood is one, if not always of anguish, at least of a searching for resolution of some kind, with only the occasional hint at sensuality, as in the fourth song at the end of the phrase 'Et dans mon cher Paris'. This is music that rewards repeated listening.
If Reynaldo Hahn is not exactly on everyone's lips, he is a world beater by comparison with Gabriel Dupont. A pupil of Massenet, Gedalge and Widor, Dupont was placed between Caplet and Ravel in the Prix de Rome competition of 1901. He was expected to be a major player in French music, but tuberculosis claimed him in 1914 at the age of only 36. In 1933 the conservatoire at Caen, Dupont's birthplace, were putting up a monument to him and asked Ravel to join the committee of honour; Ravel willingly agreed, in memory of 'mon pauvre et cher ami'.
Dupont's Poèmes d'automne on poems by various writers were composed in 1903-4 while he was still under Widor's tuition. The generally melancholy tone of the cycle may owe something to the tuberculosis which had first manifested itself the previous year. The vocal lines are clearly influenced by those of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, premiered in 1902, most notably in the fluid mixture of duplets and triplets. But the harmonic language is already Dupont's own, largely modal in accordance with the general usage of the time, but with a distinct, personal accent of sorrow. The singer is given useful help in the indications over the first four songs: 'languide', 'avec une grande simplicité', 'comme en rêvant', 'sans nuances, comme un enfant' (languidly, simply, dreamily, smoothly like a child).
In 1906 Fauré made his only setting of poetry by Henri de Régnier. As often in his music, 'Chanson' is driven by the relations between voice and piano left hand. Meanwhile the right hand makes lute noises. There is only one accepted cadence before the final one; elsewhere Fauré teases us with feints and false trails...
Three years after completing the cycle La Chanson d'Eve to poems by the Flemish writer Charles van Lerberghe in 1910, Fauré returned to that poet in Le Jardin Clos, choosing eight poems from his collection Entrevisions, published in 1898. While preparing to set the poems in July 1914, he wrote to his wife, 'I can't find anything, I'm afraid, in the contemporary French poets, at least nothing that calls for music.' Commentators have often remarked on the pre-Raphaelite tone of the words, and no less of the music - no sign here of Le Sacre du printemps, nor indeed of Ravel's muscular Piano Trio which was premiered at the same concert as the cycle in January 1915. The keyboard writing is pared down to the bone, while the singer is given continual arioso that emphasises the natural rhythms of the words. Again we find interplay between harmony and bass, with dissonances resolving in all kinds of unexpected ways, and through the steadily pulsing rhythms we hear these surprises with unusual clarity: in the first song, for example, the sudden B flat on 'lèvre' is replete with veiled eroticism.
Some of the original poems bore epigraphs from The Song of Songs, and the 'walled garden', the title of the central group of poems, clearly refers to this Old Testament text. But it could, possibly, also refer to the predicament of France, now 'walled in' by the German army, or to Fauré's own increasing deafness that was shutting him off from the outside world. Certainly there is an inwardness in these songs that speaks of things spiritual, even though Fauré was no kind of believer. They are also informed by a harmonic boldness (for example in the chromaticisms of the fifth song) that prompted Saint-Saëns to admit to his one-time pupil that he couldn't find any pleasure 'in this garden blocked off by thorns'. The final song, the only one in the minor mode, closes the work in a spirit of acceptance that recalls Fauré's earlier patient, resigned response to death in his Requiem.
© 2020 Roger Nichols
"3 French Song Cycles - Dupont, Hahn, Fauré" by the soprano Charlotte de Rothschild has just been released on 5 February by Nimbus. Rothschild, who is highly regarded as a singer of Japanese songs, together with her accompanist Adrian Farmer, has embarked in recent years on a series of precious, niche recordings of neglected, 19th century British composers such as Roger Quilter, Norman Peterkin and Cyril Scott.
Top billing in this time's French song collection goes to Reynaldo Hahn with 13 songs. Among the poems he set to music were "Les Feuilles Blessées" by Jean Moréas, a 19th century proponent of symbolism. His subdued, subtle tones remind one of a darkling plain, and Rothschild sings them like a lament. Next come eight songs by Gabriel Edouard Dupont, who died in 1914 at the age of 36, and whose work is rarely heard even in his homeland of France. His style is both simple and complex, and detached from this world. Among his songs, "Ophélia", which says that humans are merely part of nature, is imbued with a sense of the transience of life. In singing these songs Rothschild's tone becomes dreamy and mysterious. If you listen through from the beginning to the last 8 songs by Gabriel Fauré, then Hahn is a wide plain, Dupont is wind and air, and Fauré is light. It is as if Rothschild, in order to appease the natural elements, invites and even presses the listener to travel from the depths of the abyss up into heaven. She says that in the midst of Covid she made the recording in a short window just before the first lockdown, and her CD makes one feel the immediacy of life and death.
Rothschild is now working with Farmer on a three-part album of the 19th century British composer Cecil Armstrong Gibbs. After that she plans to tackle folk songs from the Hebrides islands off the north-west of Scotland, which were collected by the 19th century musician Marjorie Kennedy Fraser, and is taking up "the challenge of Gaelic". It will be a pleasure to see where she takes us next.Yuko Yamagata Footman - Record Geijutsu Tokyo - April 2021
フランス歌曲集１番手はレイナルド・アーンの計１３曲、１９世紀の象徴主義を提唱した詩人ジャン・モレアスの詩「Les Feuilles Blessees」等に作曲したもの。黒々とした大地を思わせる地味で微妙な光彩を、ロスチャイルドは哀歌のように歌う。２番手はガブリエル・エデュアール・デュポン8曲、１９１４年３６歳で他界した彼の歌曲は、お膝元フランスでさえ聴くチャンスが少ない。作風はコンプレックスな反面シンプルで、この世離れしている。中でも《オフィーリア》は人間が自然の一部に過ぎないという、はかなさが漂う。ロスチャイルドの歌唱ぶりは、夢想的かつ幽玄。始めから最後のガブリエル・フォーレ８曲まで通して聴くと、アーンが大地、デュポンは風や空気、フォーレは光、まるでロスチャイルドが自然エレメントを優しくなだめ、促しながら、深淵の淵から天へと聴く者を誘うかのよう。コロナ禍「第一次ロックダウン直前に短期間で録音した」と語る彼女、生と死を肌で感じさせるCDだ。
レコード芸術２０２１年４月号・海外楽信より/ ロンドン＝山形優子フットマンYuko Yamagata Footman - レコード芸術２０２１年４月号・海外楽信より/ ロンドン - April 2021
|Les Feuilles Blessées: I. Dans le ciel est dressé le chêne séculaire
|Les Feuilles Blessées: II. Encor sur le pavé, sonne mon pas nocturne
|Les Feuilles Blessées: III. Quand reviendra l'automne
|Les Feuilles Blessées: IV. Belle lune d'argent
|Les Feuilles Blessées: V. Quand je viendrai m'asseoir
|Les Feuilles Blessées: VI. Eau printanière
|Les Feuilles Blessées: VII. Donc vous allez fleurir encor
|Les Feuilles Blessées: VIII. Compagne de l'éther
|Les Feuilles Blessées: IX. Pendant que je médite
|Les Feuilles Blessées: X. Roses en bracelet
|Les Feuilles Blessées: XI. Aux rayons du couchant
|Études latines: I. Tyndaris
|Études latines: II. Lydé
|Poèmes d'automne: I. Si j'ai aimé
|Poèmes d'automne: II. Ophélia
|Poèmes d'automne: III. Au temps de la mort des marjolaines
|Poèmes d'automne: IV. La fontaine de pitié
|Poèmes d'automne: V. La neige
|Poèmes d'automne: VI. Le silence de l'eau
|Poèmes d'automne: VII. Doucer du soir!
|Poèmes d'automne: VIII. Sur le vieux banc
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: I. Exaucement
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: II. Quand tu plonges tes yeux dans mes yeux
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: III. La messagère
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: IV. Je me poserai sur ton coeur
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: V. Dans la mymphée
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: VI. Dans la pénombre
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: VI. Il m'est cher, Amour, le bandeau
|Le Jardin Clos, Op. 106: VII. Inscription sur le sable
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