Thursday, June 4, 2009

Berlioz "Les nuits d’été" & Santoliquido "I canti della sera" -- English Translations

Below are notes and new English translations I made for the song texts for a recent Music @ Main program featuring mezzo-soprano Anne Richie.

CLICK HERE for the entire set of six French poems by Gautier as set by Berlioz, along with the new English translation/versification

Program Notes, by Ed Lein, Music Librarian

The French Romantic Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was among the most progressive composers of his era, and his original blending of symphonic forms with dramatic narrative, coupled with his keen insight into orchestration, had profound influence on the creative development of such luminaries as Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt. As a composer, Berlioz was never very popular with the French musical establishment, and despite his early successes he had difficulty getting his later works performed unless he paid for the concerts himself. But he did enjoy success as an author and music critic, and gained international fame as a conductor. In 1850 he was appointed Head Librarian of the Paris Conservatoire, which provided not only financial stability, but also something of an ironic twist to his biography. As a youth Berlioz had been sent to Paris to attend medical school, but rather than study human anatomy (which repulsed the young Hector) he preferred to study music scores, so he would sneak into—and then be kicked out of—the very library he would later manage. Especially famous for his Symphonie fantastique (1830) and Grande Messe des morts (Requiem Mass, 1837), Berlioz wrote about 50 songs with piano or guitar accompaniment, and among these the six songs from Les nuits d’ete (“The Nights of Summer”), Op. 7 (1841, orchestrated 1856) are easily the best known. Although the lyrics of all the opus 7 songs are by the influential French poet and critic Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), apparently the composer’s original intent was not that they be performed as a song cycle. Instead, he conceived them as separate songs to be performed variously by tenor, baritone, contralto, and mezzo-soprano, and was only later (but easily) convinced to orchestrate the whole set by an admiring music publisher. The selections this evening are the first, second and sixth songs from the set. Villanelle, a rustic song, joyously welcomes the returning spring with renewed hopefulness as the countryside begins to reawaken. In Le spectre de la rose (“The Ghost of the Rose”), a fading blossom at first seems to lament having been cut down in its prime, only to rejoice in its happy fate of having adorned the belle of the ball as its perfume lingers on. In the concluding barcarolle, L'île inconnue ("The Unknown Island"), a flirtatious gondolier asks his pretty young passenger to imagine which exotic shores she'd like to be whisked away to--she responds, "To the faithful shore where we're always in love!"

Les nuits d’été
      on poems by Théophile Gautier


Quand viendra la saison nouvelle,
Quand auront disparu les froids,
Tous les deux nous irons, ma belle,
Pour cueillir le muguet aux bois.
Sous nos pieds égrénant les perles
Que l'on voit, au matin trembler,
Nous irons écouter les merles

Le printemps est venu, ma belle;
C'est le mois des amants béni;
Et l'oiseau, satinant son aile,
Dit vers au rebord du nid.
Oh! Viens donc sur ce banc de mousse,
Pour parler de nos beaux amours,
Et dis-moi de ta voix si douce:

Loin, bien loin égarant nos courses,
Faisons fuir le lapin caché,
Et le daim, au miroir des sources
Admirant son grand bois penché;
Puis chez nous, tout heureux, tout aises,
En paniers, en laçant nos doigts,
Revenons, rapportant des fraises,
      Des bois.
The Nights of Summer
      English version ©2009, by Edward Lein
        (Notify/credit if reprinting) 


When the new season ventures here,
When it drives away the cold wind,
Into the woods we shall go, dear,
There lilies of the valley to find.
Where, underfoot, dew shines like pearls
Seen shimmering in the morning sun,
We’ll listen to the whistling blackbirds'
      New song.


Le spectre de la rose

Soulève ta paupière close
Qu'effleure un songe virginal;
Je suis le spectre d'une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encore emperlée
Des pleurs d'argent de l'arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.

Ô toi qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toutes les nuits mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe ni De profundis;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme,
Et j'arrive du paradis.

Mon destin fut digne d'envie,
Et pour avoir un sort si beau,
Plus d'un aurait donné sa vie
Car sur ton sein j'ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l'albâtre où je repose
Un poète avec un baiser
Écrivit: "Ci-gît une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser."

The Ghost of the Rose

Open those eyelids now closed,
Soft-touched by a maiden’s pure dream;
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore to the ball yester-even.
You snipped me while yet I was pearly
With the watering can’s silvery tears,
And about the glittering soirée
You paraded me under the stars.


L’île inconnue

Dites, la jeune belle,
Où voulez-vous aller?
La voile enfle son aile,
La brise va souffler!

L'aviron est d'ivoire
Le pavillon de moiré,
Le gouvernail d'or fin;
J'ai pour lest une orange,
Pour voile une aile d'ange,
Pour mousse un séraphin.

Dites, la jeune belle,
Où voulez-vous aller?
La voile enfle son aile,
La brise va souffler!

Est-ce dans la Baltique,
Dans la mer Pacifique,
Dans l'île de Java?
Ou bien est-ce en Norvège,
Cueillir la fleur de neige,
Ou la fleur d'Angsoka?

Dites, la jeune belle
Où voulez-vous aller?

Menez-moi, dit la belle,
A la rive fidèle
Où l'on aime toujours.
---Cette rive, ma chère,
On ne la connaît guère
Au pays des amours.

Où voulez-vous aller?
La brise va souffler!

The Unknown Island

Tell me, my dear young thing,
Where might you wish to go?
The sail unfurls its wing,
The breeze begins to blow!


CLICK HERE to see Janet Baker sing a Villanelle excerpt on youtube.
CLICK HERE to see Janet Baker sing Le spectre de la rose on youtube.
CLICK HERE to see Janet Baker sing L'île inconnue on youtube.

Italian composer Francesco Santoliquido (1883-1971) completed the music and lyrics of his earliest surviving songs, I canti della sera (“The Songs of the Evening”) in 1908. They were published by Ricordi in 1912, and the journal Musical America recommended them “as the finest of modern concert songs” in 1922. But in addition to composing, Santoliquido published books of verse and short stories, and in 1937 and 1938 he penned several fascist, anti-Semitic articles, and also decried musical modernism. As a result he was effectively ostracized from the progressive arts community. Ironically, his third wife, pianist Ornella Pulti Santoliquido, had been a student of Alfredo Casella (a prominent Jewish-Italian composer and a particular target of Francesco's), and she became known as an advocate of modern music. As these four evocative "evening songs" demonstrate, Santoliquido’s early style blends characteristics of Debussy and Richard Strauss (by way of Puccini!), but they do not yet show the influence of the Arabic music that colored his later works, the result of a nine-year sojourn to North Africa which began in 1912. The first song, L’assiola canta (“The Horned Owl Sings”), is an invitation to share an intimate walk through the woods on a still, starry evening, interrupted only by the mournful sigh of an owl. Alba di luna sul bosco (“Moonrise over the Woods”) artfully depicts the appearance of a red moon over the forest and it’s shimmering reflection caught on the surface of a pond; this in turn leads the poet to reflect on the surrounding vast stillness and peace, and how such a perfect sense of communion mirrors, or perhaps even inspires newly found love. As its title suggests, the mood of Tristezze crepuscolare (“Twilight Gloom”) changes from peaceful contemplation to sorrowful angst and agitation as the incessant pealing of evening church bells unearths painful memories of a lost love. The final song, L’incontro (“The Encounter”), ends the cycle on a more hopeful note as it relates the happy reunion of a couple who years before had enjoyed a similar twilight flirtation, with evening bells and sqwaking seabirds now heard in the distance, just the same as before. The accompaniment includes rhythmic patterns similar to those used in the preceding songs, perhaps suggestive of the imperfectly-recalled memories mentioned in the lyrics.

I canti della sera ("The Songs of the Evening")

Italian lyrics by the composer (1908)
English translations by Ed Lein (©2009, E. Lein -- please notify and credit if reprinting)

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