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Ah! petit démon

author of text

This is Chabrier in quirky, zany mood. What the song lacks in musical substance it makes up for in terms of ebullience and minimalist modernity. Like Ivresses! this is the sort of music that might have been composed for performance at ‘Le Chat Noir’ years later, Erik Satie avant la lettre. A strong feature of this music is the continual doubling of voice and piano – indeed, for much of the song the same melody is traced in both the left and right hands as in the vocal line. The elaboration of a simple B flat major chord in the accompaniment (bar 15, after the first ‘ma vigne!’) is an astonishingly perverse invention where one hand of the pianist seems to be chasing the other in music fit for a catherine-wheel at a fireworks party. Within the ‘Allegro risoluto’ tempo this explosive little figuration sounds positively convulsive. Another feature is the gap of almost two bars of (carefully counted) silence before the word ‘Moutard!’ is spat out in a semiquaver triplet.

The whole piece is an itch translated into musical terms, a marvellous depiction of an annoyance which gets on the nerves (the ‘petit démon’ plagues the singer and makes him jumpy) but which contains a hidden allure. The erotic implications are also clear – this ‘demon’ seems determined to invade the singer’s ‘vine’ at all costs and we gather by the end of the piece that this incursion would not be entirely unwelcome. Although the piece is hardly distinguished in itself (and it probably outstays its welcome like many such strophic songs) it is a signpost to those sides of Chabrier which were profoundly to influence later generations, musical wit taken beyond Offenbach towards the shores of Erik Satie and the distant horizons of Francis Poulenc. It is thanks to Chabrier’s unbuttoning of French music that both of these later composers felt able to indulge their interest in cabaret-type material as part and parcel of their mainstream creative achievement. Perhaps it was just as well that Chabrier did not fancy himself as a ‘serious’ composer of the mélodie like his colleagues Fauré and Duparc. If he had, he would probably not have been able to create a song such as this with such unselfconscious zest.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002


Chabrier: Songs


Track 9 on CDA67133/4 CD1 [7'02] 2CDs

Track-specific metadata for CDA67133/4 disc 1 track 9

Recording date
29 March 2001
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Chabrier: Songs (CDA67133/4)
    Disc 1 Track 9
    Release date: July 2002
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