Paladilhe, born in Montpellier, was a child prodigy who entered the Paris Conservatoire at the age of nine. He was the youngest ever composer to win the Prix de Rome—at the age of sixteen in 1860—with his cantata Le Czar Ivan IV
. He was a pupil of Halévy which brought him into contact with Bizet, who later married Halévy’s daughter. While studying in Rome Paladilhe composed a hit song, Mandolinata
; this reappeared in the opera Le passant
(1872) sung by the mezzo-soprano Marie Galli-Marié (the first Carmen) who was Paladilhe’s mistress at the time. By 1875 Paladilhe was sufficiently cynical about his early success to include ‘Complainte du malheureux prix de Rome’ in his opéra comique, L’amour africain
. He scored his greatest theatrical success only with Patrie!
(1886) based on the drama by Sardou. After this he concentrated on religious music in the form of oratorios and choral music; he also returned to his roots in cultural terms and developed a keen interest in the musical traditions of the southern France. Paladilhe wrote over one hundred mélodies; his friendship with the elderly Gounod resulted in the two men writing songs for each other—the younger composer is the dedicatee of Gounod’s Viens, les gazons sont verts
(originally a Longfellow setting in English). In 1886 Paladilhe composed Six chansons écossaises
to texts of Leconte de Lisle: he had the temerity to revisit Nell and Nanny (made famous by Fauré and Chausson respectively, but treated in simple folk-song style by Paladilhe) but it was probably Paladilhe’s La fille aux cheveux de lin
which remained in Debussy’s mind when he gave this title to a piano Prélude more than twenty years later. These songs are exactly the works that the young Debussy played through avidly in the process of forming his own mélodie style. Paladilhe married the daughter of the writer and librettist Ernest Legouvé who had worked with Berlioz and many others.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006
English: Richard Stokes