The earliest of Ravel’s Cinq mélodies populaires grecques
were written in 1904 at the urgent request of Pierre Aubry, who needed to illustrate a lecture he was giving on Greek folksong. A mutual friend of his and Ravel’s, Michel D Calvocoressi (himself of Greek descent), found five choice examples and Ravel supplied a piano accompaniment for them in a mere thirty-six hours. Calvocoressi, impressed by this ‘extraordinary feat’, then produced three more and commissioned Ravel to set those as well. The new collection, selected from the total eight, was first performed (in Greek) and published in French translation in 1906. Ravel began the task of orchestrating them but soon lost interest (Rosenthal completed the task in 1935). The version for voice and harp recorded here was made in 1930 by the American harpist Carlos Salzedo, who had Ravel’s complete approval.
These are all popular songs from the island of Chios (just off the coast of Turkey), famous for its mastic production. They mix the entirely flippant Tout gai! with the deeply profound Là-bas, vers l’église, and move from the last serenade of a groom on his wedding day (‘Réveille-toi’) and the excitement of a dashing gallant, with no lack of self-confidence to the awed adulation of beauty (‘Ô joie de mon âme’).
from notes by Alison Nicholls © 2008