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Chansons basques, Op 23

composer
October 1919
author of text

 
It was during a stay Jean Cocteau, my brother Pierre and I had that summer at Ahusquy, a small hamlet in the Basque country near the Spanish border, that these short pieces were conceived. The first couple were based on two popular motives after hearing the song of a young shepherd, to which Cocteau added the words of 'Prière' and 'Polka'; the third piece on one of the poems he brought back from our trip.
In the last, the meaning might seem obscure if it wasn't for the title 'Attelage'.
A scene of working oxen in their traditional harness, covered by a sort of rug, crowned by their yokes, their saliva flowing, foaming, from their mouths to the ground.
The first two pieces are tonal and sober. The accompaniment to the third, more elaborate, atonal, unwinds the wreath of two melodic parts in counterpoint above a constant and weighty bass evoking the slow and heavy tread of the two animals.
(Louis Durey, from his Catalogue Commenté, translation by Isabelle Battioni)

Apart from the piano score there is a version with accompaniment for oboe, clarinet, cor anglais and bassoon (or string quartet).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002

C’est au cours d’un séjour que nous fîmes cet été-là, Jean Cocteau, mon frère Pierre et moi à Ahusquy, petit hameau du pays basques à la frontière espagnole, que furent élaborées ces courtes pièces, les premières sur deux motifs populaires notés d’après le chant d’un jeune pâtre et sur lesquels Cocteau mit les paroles de « Prière » et de « Polka », la troisième sur l’un des poèmes qu’il rapporta de notre voyage.
De ce dernier, le sens pourrait paraître obscur, si ce n’était le titre: « Attelage ».
C’est un attelage de bœufs dans leur traditionnel équipage, couverts d’une sorte de tapis, couronnés par le joug, et dont la salive s’écoule, écumante, de leur bouche jusqu’au sol.
Les deux premières pièces, tonales et sobres; l’accompagnement de la troisième, plus fouillé, atonal, déroule les volutes de deux parties mélodiques en contrepoint sur une basse immuable et pesant évoquant le démarche lente et lourde des deux bêtes.
(Louis Durey: in Catalogue Commenté, 1962)

Hormis la partition pour piano, il existe une version avec accompagnement de hautbois, clarinette, cor anglais et basson (ou quatuor à cordes). (GJ)

extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 2002
Français: Isabelle Battioni

Recordings

Durey: Songs
CDA67257Archive Service

Details

No 1: Prière  Sainte Vierge Marie, ayez pitié des gens
Track 2 on CDA67257 [1'19] Archive Service
No 2: Polka  Sirocco, joli vent chaud
Track 3 on CDA67257 [0'31] Archive Service
No 3: Attelage  Deux maisons de travers approchent
Track 4 on CDA67257 [2'05] Archive Service

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