Released the 20th November 2020
« Ravissante angélique. La mésange a chanté, disant dans sa musique la douceur de l’été… »
L'Angélique, Chantefleurs de Wiener
A Floral Bouquet by Alain Duault
A lovely, tall flower of a singer whose parents named her 'Melody' in homage to Serge Gainsbourg *, and whose fruity voice is the result of springtime; and a boy with a corolla smile, whose fingers are petals running over the keyboard- garden: Melody Louledjian and Antoine Palloc could not help but meet and lure us into this colourful park where they are the elves.
It is not easy to find music for a flower!
But that of fifty - and a bit more because Robert Desnos grouped some of them, either because they resemble each other (narcissus and daffodil; periwinkle and primrose), or they resonate together (dog rose, hawthorn and wisteria; marjoram and verbena; camellia and dahlia; or else lily, amaryllis, convolvulus and melissa)... It's a mission impossible! However, we remember: where there's a will there's a way... And Jean Wiéner had that willing heart: his Chantef/eurs are a perfume organ!
But let us go back to the beginning, to the 1920s, when a poet, born in 1900 and who mixed with the surrealists, wrote his first texts under the pen name of Rrose Sélavy (already 'Rrose'! Hmm...) and would, under his real name, Robert Desnos, become one of the free-est poets of th is group - too free, even, for the self proclaimed pope of the Surrealists, André Breton, who excluded him in 1929! The following year, Desnos published Corps et biens, a radiantly lyrical collection of poems. In 1933, he wrote La Complainte de Fantömas as part of a poetic and musical radio series based on the popular novels. Set to music by Kurt Weill and broadcast by Radio Paris, it enjoyed a resounding success. As a great music lover, wrote record reviews for Ce soir, the news- paper run by Aragon, and then a music chronicle in the periodical Europe. But war broke out, and Desnos joined the Résistance whilst continuing to write since it was in those years that he invented his Chantef/eurs with their sparkling words, in turn delightfully humorous ('Le bégogo, le bégonia/ Va au papa, / Va au palais...') or subtly poetic ('Ravissante angélique / La mésange a chanté, / Disant dans sa musique / La douceur de l'été...') or else nicely assonant in an invention of colourful sonorities ('La marjolaine et la verveine / La marjoveine et la verlaine / La verjolaine et la marveine...'). But war could not care less about poets: Robert Desnos was arrested in February 1944. Deportedto various camps, in April 1945 he ended up at Theresienstadt where he died from typhus as much as from exhaustion on 8 June, a few days after the camp was liberated by the Red Army.
Jean Wiéner knew Robert Desnos slightly, having met at dinners where poets, painters, and musicians gathered. They doubtless also shared evenings at Le Bæuf sur le toit, the famous cabaret where Jean Wiéner regularly played the piano... and where the lovely Yvonne George, with whom Desnos was madly in love, sang. But it was after the poet's death that Wiéner discovered his collection Chante- fables et chantefleurs: to be sung on any tune. Starting with the title, the invitation to music is patent, and these poetic miniatures are ideal for displaying a composer's musical fantasy. Each of these pieces lasts barely more than a minute - but it is precisely in a few bars that the proper characterisation must be found for the gardénia or angélique (angelica), bouton d'or (buttercup) or véronique (speedwell), myosotis (forget-me-not) and then the rose (which are 'flowers that say sumthin', which Mouloudji** would later sing...).
In 1954 the Chantefleurs were composed, it would seem without difficulty, borne by a feather lightness that is found again in this music, in turn racy, discretely humorous or charming, with something of a catalogue of velivole scents. In addition, some of these little pieces carry am using performance indications in the spirit of Satie: 'very Alsatian' for Le Bégonia, 'tempo de blues lentissimo' for La Pivoine, 'nicely exotic' for Le G/dieu/, 'very Casino de Paris' for Le Bouton d'or, 'horribly pompous' for La Tulipe, etc. Success was immediate and, in 1955, Jean Wiéner received the Grand Prix de l'Académie du Disque franqais for these pieces.
Moreover, it was at this prize ceremony that Jean Wiéner would see his friend Arthur Honegger for the last time.
The two had sha red fits of laughter at the Conservatoire where they had met, and much music, amongst others at concerts of the Groupe des Six, which Wiéner organized on a regular basis.
Also in this Groupe des Six was one of Jean Wiéner's best friends, his 'true brother' as he wrote in his Memoirs: Darius Milhaud. His Catalogue de fleurs, composed in 1920, is a cycle of seven songs on texts by Lucien Daudet, the son of the author of Letters from My Windmill, Alphonse Daudet. In a spirit quite different from those of Robert Desnos, Lucien Daudet's poems depict several of the same flowers, from the violet to the begonia by way of hyacinths, but also portraying others in this vast garden of the world, from fritillaries to the foxtail lily And although the music of Darius Milhaud is quite different from Jean Wiéner's, the same freshness emanates from it, as if Milhaud were red iscovering the perfumes of his native Provence. His great friend the conductor Paul Collaer, whom he had met in Brussels the previous year at a lecture on Cocteau, would say about this charming Catalogue that it is 'a ray of sunshine through brilliantly white clouds, the first sign of the year'
Adding to this garden of musical flowers, Melody Louledjian and Antoine Palloc have chosen a song by Erik Satie, entitled precisely Les Fleurs, on a poem written twenty years earlier by Jean-Patrice Contamine de Latour (pseudonym of the Spanish poet José Maria Vicente Ferrer Francisco de Paola Patricio Manuel Contamine). We do not know how Satie discovered this poem but we know he immediately set it to music, in 1886, when he was twenty. It is a pretty, youthful song, Symbolist in spirit and featuring a fine, somewhat dreamy, harmonic construction, a sort of album page ending on the word 'tenderness'.
To continue our stroll in this scented garden, after Darius Milhaud, we run into another member of the Groupe des Six, the aforementioned Arthur Honegger, with his Nature morte, a short piece composed in 1917, at the age of 25. On a poem by Fritz Vanderpyl, it evokes a table laden with fruits and, in the middle, a single purple flower - of which we do not even know the name.
Of the last two 'florists' contributing to this bouquet, first we have Lili Boulanger, composer and first woman to win the famous Grand Prix de Rome, to whom we owe a vast cycle of 13 songs, Clairiéres dans le ciel, on poems by Francis Jammes. This younger sister of the famous teacher Nadia Boulanger was a child prod igy who, at the age of only twenty, already seemed in full possession of her means, even though the influences of Fauré and Debussy can be detected, just like those of Schubert or Wagner, singularly he of Tristan (from which the desire leitmotif is quoted in the sixth song). It is the tenth song in this cycle, Deux Anco/ies, that Melody Louledjian and Antoine Palloc have selected, a tender allegorical evocation of these flowers that mix 'their blue hearts'.
The musicologist Jacques Chailley suggested that, in choosing this poem, Lili perhaps wanted to underscore the close bonds that united the two sisters. Be that as it may, melancholy constitutes the rich rhyme of these elegant tall flowers with their spiky petals, which inspired other writers, from Apollinaire ('L'anémone et l'ancolie ont poussé dans le jardin') to Marcel Proust, evoking Odette's thought ('He caressed her, warmed himself with her and, feeling a sort of languor, yielded to a slight quavering that tensed his neck and nostrils, a sensation new to him, whilst placing the bunch of columbine in his buttonhole').
Columbine is also sometimes called 'granny's bonnet', which expresses its subtle softness: it seems that Lili Boulanger's song, accompanied by a fluid, shimmering piano, expresses th is pensive softness well, th is slight rocking of sadness of a young woman who perhaps had the premonition of her coming death, four years later...
The other and final florist of this bouquet is René de Buxeuil (who was, in fact, born Jean-Baptiste Chevrier but took the name of his birthplace as a pseudonym). After losing his sight at the age of 11, victim of an accidental shooting, he devoted his life to music and especially to song writing along with teaching (one of his students would become a well-known singer under the name of Damia). His musicwas performed by the greats of the day, but it is the song that he wrote for the famous Berthe Sylva, one of the greatest stars of French chanson in the 1930s, L'Äme des roses, to lyrics by Suzanne Quentin, that would earn him dazzling renown: the refrain, it must be said, is full of moving charm: 'Never remove the petals of roses / For in the secret of roses / A woman's soul is enclosed / And it is she who suffers / When one hurts roses'. And the music, too, is tinged with a touching fragrance...
Voi/å, the bouquet of these light flowers is prettily wrapped: Melody Lou ledjian and Antoine Palloc offer it to us with these scents that are inhaled with the ear- as well as with the heart.
* Translator' note: L'histoire de Melody Nelson was Serge Gainsbourg's first 'concept album', released in 1971
** Marcel Mouloudji (1922-1994), French singer and composer.