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Les plus jolies chansons du pays de France

author of text
compiled by Catulle Mendès

In 1888 the firm of E. Plon, Nourrit et Cie published an extremely handsome and substantial volume of folksong arrangements with beautiful illustrations, both in colour and black and white, by Lucien Metivet. Catulle Mendès was responsible for the selection of the contents, one would suppose from the literary side of things. Mendès had his finger in every pie and had long mastered the art of being paid the most for doing the least. The participation of Chabrier in this enterprise has all the signs of a sub-contract whereby the infinitely more financially adept Mendès paid the composer. One wonders how much money Chabrier actually made; he was always worried about financial matters and might have been persuaded to take part in this venture for the same purely commercial reason that Beethoven made folksong arrangements for George Thomson of Edinburgh. On the other hand Chabrier was a man of the country; if in 1888 the study of folksong had been the serious movement it was soon to become, he might have been in its vanguard. In any case it is clear from these arrangements that he was delighted with these old melodies, some more than others of course. Some eighteen years later another southerner, Déodat de Séverac, was to perform a similar service for the chanteuse Yvette Guilbert using similarly spare, yet imaginative, piano writing (Hyperion CDA66983). When one considers the later arrangements of folksongs by Canteloube, Ravel, Grainger, Bartók, Grainger, Britten and so on, it is clear that Chabrier was something of a pioneer among the greater composers in working in this field.

The preface of Les plus jolies chansons acknowledges several learned works on the subject (at this stage the study of the poetry still took preference over the musical), and it also pays generous tribute to the arrangements of Jean-Baptiste Weckerlin (1821-1910) whose Echos du temps passé and Chansons populaires des provinces de France were obviously source works for this collection. There are thirty-six arrangements altogether, of which twenty are by the composer’s friend Armand Gouzien (1839-1892) and sixteen by Chabrier. (His correspondence with Mendès talks of eighteen arrangements being ready, but they were obviously not all published). On this disc we hear seven of Chabrier’s arrangements in their entirety – which is to say with every strophic repetition. The unfolding of these folksongs is such that it is almost always necessary to hear strophe after strophe of the same music to make sense of the complete story. On this very full pair of discs it has been necessary to cut some strophes of the remaining nine settings. The result is that some of the stories might seem incomplete, but the listener will at least have heard all Chabrier’s folksongs from the point of view of his musical contribution. His touch in these pieces is deceptively light and restrained; but time after time his piano writing adds enormously to the music’s charm.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002


Chabrier: Songs


No 07: Les métamorphoses 'Chanson canadienne'  Par derrièr' chez ma tante
Track 5 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [2'11] 2CDs
No 13: Sur le bord de l'île 'Chanson champenoise'  C'était la fill' d'un prince
Track 12 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [4'20] 2CDs
No 16: Les filles de trente ans 'Chanson angoumoisine'  Grand Dieu, que je suis malheureuse
Track 9 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'29] 2CDs
No 19: Marion s'en va-t-a l'ou 'Chanson auvergnate'  Quand Marion s'en va-t-a l'ou
Track 20 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [3'01] 2CDs
No 20: La mie du voleur 'Chanson agenoise'  Je m' suis levée un beau matin
Track 8 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [2'19] 2CDs
No 21: Que les amants ont de la peine! 'Chanson poitevine'  Là-bas, dans ces verts prés
Track 13 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [2'44] 2CDs
No 24: Le flambeau éteint 'Chanson nivernaise'  Que veut ouïr une chanson
Track 16 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'31] 2CDs
No 25: Joli dragon 'Chanson languedocienne'
Track 19 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'05] 2CDs
No 26: Nique nac no muse! 'Chanson normande'  La bell', si nous étions dedans ce haut bois
Track 7 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'33] 2CDs
No 29: La bien-aimée 'Chanson angoumoisine'  Veux-tu venir, la belle?
Track 17 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'14] 2CDs
No 31: La mort de la brune 'Chanson franc-comtoise'  Je n'avais que quinze ans
Track 14 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [3'54] 2CDs
No 32: Les garçons de Bordeaux 'Chanson bordelaise'
Track 11 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [2'55] 2CDs
No 33: Bergère et chasseur 'Chanson poitevine'  Dès l'âge de quinze ans que mon père me gage
Track 18 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'19] 2CDs
No 34: La fleur dorée 'Chanson agenoise'  Tout en revenant de boire bouteille
Track 15 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'03] 2CDs
No 35: Entrez, la belle, en vigne 'Chanson saintongeoise'
Track 6 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [1'11] 2CDs
No 36: Le déserteur 'Chanson poitevine'  L'y a huit ans que je suis dans les troupes
Track 10 on CDA67133/4 CD2 [2'18] 2CDs

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