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Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques
1904; published 1906
author of text
from the Greek

'Of ladies and love' (CDA67315)
Of ladies and love
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'Ravel: Songs' (CDA67728)
Ravel: Songs
No 1: Le réveil de la mariée  Réveille-toi, réveille-toi, perdrix mignonne
No 2: Là-bas, vers l'église
No 3: Quel galant m'est comparable?
No 4: Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques  Ô joie de mon âme
No 5: Tout gai!

Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques
Ravel was involved in arranging some Corsican folk songs in the 1890s, but nothing similar then came his way until February 1904 when a friend, the critic M D Calvocoressi, was asked to find someone to set six songs for a lecture entitled ‘The songs of oppressed peoples—Greeks and Armenians’. Ravel wrote the settings in thirty-six hours, but felt that four of them were too scanty. The remaining two, Quel galant m’est comparable? and Chanson des cueilleuses de lentisques, found their way into the Cinq mélodies populaires grecques performed as part of two lecture-recitals by Calvocoressi during the 1905–6 season. If the original accompaniments were too scanty, the ones we have are by no means over-succulent, with simple harmonies and many bare fifths. In Quel galant, Ravel curiously but effectively negates the Aeolian mode of the tune, based on A, by treating it tonally in G major. In Chanson des cueilleuses, on the other hand, the Lydian D sharps are a feature of both tune and accompaniment. It may be worth pointing out that ‘lentisques’ have nothing to do with lentils: Pistachia lentiscus, the lentisk tree, exudes mastic, a pale yellow gum-resin used for varnish, cement and liquor. For the girls engaged in gathering this substance, having sticky hands may well have made the ‘blond angel’ of their desire seem further off than ever.

The first song of the set, Chanson de la mariée, was correctly retitled by Ravel when he orchestrated it some thirty years later as Le réveil de la mariée, what might vulgarly be termed ‘The bride’s wake-up call’. The Phrygian modality of the original tune (G minor with A flat) suggested to Ravel not just the occasional A flat major chord, but a succession of five chords in which the frisson between A flat and G minor is intensified by chromatic harmonies. Là-bas, vers l’église, also on a Phrygian tune, celebrates villagers buried in the local cemetery, and the final words, ‘Du monde tous les plus braves!’, intimate that they were killed in battle. Here the spread chords evoke bells with wonderful economy. The final song, Tout gai!, is in a tonal A flat major with not an accidental in sight, while the slight variations in the second verse are just enough to preclude predictability.

from notes by Roger Nichols © 2009

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