13 January 2011

Hector Berlioz - Les Nuits D'Été

I used to hate any kind of vocal classical music. It just seemed exaggerated to me, so completely over-the-top that I couldn't find any emotion in it. Needless to say, I have since then changed my mind and there are several vocal pieces that I absolutely love to death. I wasn't sure about posting a vocal piece so early on though, because it really is something that's not to everyone's taste and often takes a couple of listens. But this song is actually the first classical song I loved, it is beautiful and cheerful and so catchy it'll be stuck in your head for days.

Hector Berlioz - 'Villanelle' from Les Nuits D'Été, sung by Brigitte Balleys.

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) was a French composer whose most famous work is probably the Symphonie Fantastique. He also wrote an amazing Requiem that I will write about some other time. Unfortunately I don't know much about Berlioz (although I definitely want to read his Memoires) but wikipedia tells me that he liked Shakespeare and Beethoven and the French audiences didn't care much for him while he was still alive, which is probably why he travelled a lot. Together with Wagner and Lizst he's often considered one of the great composers of 19th century romanticism.

Les Nuits d'Été was originally written in 1841, but it was just voice and piano before the orchestral arrangment in 1857. It can be sung by a number of different voices, baritone, contralto, mezzo-soprano and soprano, this is mostly interesting because it can be sung by men and women. The version I am posting is sung by a mezzo-soprano (I also own a baritone version but I really prefer the mezzo's version!). If you like this song, I'd suggest listening to the rest of Les Nuits d'Été; La Spectre de La Rose, Sur Les Lagunes, Absence, Au Cimitière, L'Île Inconnu. Also, for those of you interested, these are the lyrics (it is a poem 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 égrenant les perles,
Que l'on voit au matin trembler,
Nous irons écouter les merles
Nous irons écouter les merles siffler.

Le printemps est venu, ma belle,
C'est le mois des amants béni,
Et l'oiseau, satinant son aile,
Dit des 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,
Et dis-moi de ta voix si douce: "Toujours."

Loin, bien loin, égarant nos courses,
Faisant fuir le lapin caché,
Et le daim au miroir des sources
Admirant son grand bois penché;

Puis chez nous, tout heureux, tout aises,
En panier enlacant nos doigts,
Revenons rapportant des fraises
Revenons rapportant des fraises des bois.


  1. I really like this! A bit to "cheerful"for me perhaps, are there any depressive vocal classics you could recommend?

  2. Oh so many!! I think Mahler's Kindertotenlieder is a pretty safe bet, and also maybe Shostakovich's From Jewish Folk Poetry. I'll write about both of these song cycles sometime soon, hopefully.