Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Music & Lyrics --- Fleurs

As usual, a car trip of any length sends me to my stash of un-listened-to CDs and I take a musical walk down memory lane (schmaltz with your morning coffee anyone?)

Recently I pulled out "Love Songs"... a collection of songs sung by Arleen Auger, who has an exquisitely lovely voice. This is a great disc of all sorts of music written for the concert hall and/or parlor singer, and includes some really gorgeous tunes. Near the end of the disc is the haunting "Fleurs" by Francis Poulenc.

I came across this song during my last year of undergraduate study, and really, it is a big part of the reason I am still a musician today. As a young singer, I had grown steadily more frustrated with my technical progress, had begun to lose all faith in my skill, and spent a great deal of time sobbing in the practice rooms. A sad sap, indeed. And in your senior year of a music degree, you must present a final recital... the culmination of your studies, meant to show a polished product, ready for the world.

Disillusioned with my ability to do the job, disgusted with the plethora of frivolous music suitable for a young soprano, I nonetheless managed to stumble upon a book about Francis Poulenc. I flipped thru the pages, and came across the first poem in a set that includes "Fleurs", "La Dame D'Andre" ...
André does not know the lady
whom he took by the hand today.
Has she a heart for the tomorrows
and for the evening has she a soul?

On returning from a country ball
did she go in her flowing dress
to seek in the haystacks the ring
for the random betrothal?

Was she afraid, when night fell,
haunted by the ghosts of the past,
in her garden, when winter
entered by the wide avenue?

He loved her for her colour,
for her Sunday good humour.
will she fade on the white leaves
of his album of better days?
Wow. The coldness and "un-romantic-ness" of this really struck me, and I hadn't even heard the music. I read on to the next poem, "Dan l'herbe"...
I can say nothing more
nor do anything for him
He died for his beautiful one
he dies a beautiful death outside

under the tree of the Law

in deep silence

in open countryside

in the grass.

He died unnoticed

crying out in his passing
alling, calling me.
But as I was far from him

and because his voice no longer carried

he died alone in the woods

beneath the tree of his childhood.

And I can say nothing more

nor do anything for him.
And now I was hooked. I have big interpretive thoughts about both of these poems, but this is becoming the longest blog post in history. So... fast forward thru a couple other poems, and then we hit "Fleurs."

Promised flowers,
Flowers held in your arms,

Flowers sprung from footprints.

Who brought you these winter flowers,

Powdered with the sands of the seas?

Sands of your kisses,

Flowers of faded love,

Your beautiful eyes are ashes.

And in the fireplace

a heart beribboned with sighs

Burns with its treasured images.

Promised flowers,

Flowers held in your arms,

Flowers sprung from footprints.

Who brought you these winter flowers,

Powdered with the sands of the seas?
In my mind, this poem (song) is the voice of a woman who sits in front of a fire, burning the momentos of a love affair that is over. It speaks to me of quiet agony, of memories that are deeply painful because of the happiness they once held. And it is the music that tells me she is now in doubt about the entire relationship... were they ever really happy? Did she even know the man who gave her these flowers? Was she fooling herself all along?

You can listen here: listen

These poems were written by Louise de Vilmorin
, an incredibly interesting character. Poulenc found in her writing "a sort of sensitive impertinence, libertinage, and appetite..."
Found this quote on wikipedia:

She had a limp but possessed an ethereal elegance. Evelyn Waugh described "Loulou" to Nancy Mitford as "an Hungarian countess who pretended to be a French poet. An egocentric maniac with the eyes of a witch. She is the Spirit of France. How I hate the French." Mitford concurred, "Oh how glad I am you feel this about Lulu—I can't sit in a room with her she makes me so nervous. And vicious… She is much more like a middle European than a French woman."

ANYWAY.... this is to me one of the most beautiful songs in the world. Because of its beauty and depth and haunting pain, I was inspired to keep singing. Listen to it, love it with me.

What song breaks your heart?


  1. I loved it. Did you sing this for your senior recital? As for what breaks my heart, as a rather inferior aging baritone and widower, I am always moved by "Pieta rispetto amore" from Verdi's Macbeth.


  2. Anonymous3:12 PM

    I adore this song. I am at music college myself, in third year, and completely agree with the crying in the practice room frustration! These pieces make it worth it though. I don't know if I'll ever fully understand what it means but I wish I could. I can see the images and feel the emotion of the song but I can't work out who is singing it and why.