Thursday, November 5, 2015

Songs from the Poets: "Nuits de Juin"

I won't bore you with a bunch of technical stuff about recording today, but I would like to, very briefly, introduce this song, another in the set titled Songs from the Poets. The poet in this case is Victor Hugo (1802 - 1885) the marvelous French novelist and poet. Outside France he is known mostly for his novels, particularly Les Misérables which I had been reading just before writing these songs--so he was on my mind. Within France he is perhaps best known for his poetry. The text of this song, "Nuits de Juin" is as follows:

Nuits de Juin

L'été, lorsque le jour a fui, de fleurs couverte
La plaine verse au loin un parfum enivrant;
Les yeux fermés, l'oreille aux rumeurs entr'ouverte,
On ne dort qu'à demi d'un sommeil transparent.

Les astres sont plus purs, l'ombre paraît meilleure;
Un vague demi-jour teint le dôme éternel;
Et l'aube douce et pâle, en attendant son heure,
Semble toute la nuit errer au bas du ciel.

Which might be translated as follows:

June Nights

In summer, when day has fled, the plain covered with flowers pours out far away an intoxicating scent; eyes shut, ears half open to noises, we only half sleep in a transparent slumber.
The stars are purer, the shade seems pleasanter; a hazy half-day colors the eternal dome; and the sweet pale dawn awaiting her hour seems to wander all night at the bottom of the sky.

There are two influences operating here. I grew up on Vancouver Island and the description in this poem reminds me very strongly of the ineffable twilight in the summer there. The other influence is French music. At the same time I was living there, I was discovering the music of Debussy and Fauré. One reason I left this poem in its original French is that the sound of the language is in my ears and I couldn't imagine setting a translation. I rather thought the setting had a certain resemblance to French music and I was surprised recently, listening to some chansons in a concert, by how very different my setting is!

And here is my setting of the poem, recently recorded with soprano Hannah Pagenkopf:

video

UPDATE: I Should have mentioned that in the clip, the guy with the beard is, of course, Victor Hugo and he is followed by three photos of twilight on Vancouver Island.

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