The good song

There are certain poems that attract composers like bees to flowers; one such is Paul Verlaine’s La lune blanche. A quick song tally arrived at a total of at least 137(!) different settings of the poem, and that’s just in the original French – there were  lots more that had been set in translation.

Here it is (you can find an English version by scrolling down here):

La lune blanche
Luit dans les bois.
De chaque branche
Part une voix
Sous la ramée.

O bien aimée.

L’étang reflète,
Profond miroir,
La silhouette
Du saule noir
Où le vent pleure.

Rêvons, c’est l’heure.

Un vaste et tendre
Apaisement
Semble descendre
Du firmament
Que l’astre irise.

C’est l’heure exquise!

Part of a collection of poems entitled La Bonne Chanson which celebrates Verlaine’s engagement to, and marriage of, Mathilde Mauté de Fleurville (she at the ripe old age of 16), it’s a wonderful poem and it’s easy to understand why so many composers found it irresistible.

Pride of place (if the number of recordings/performances is of any significance) among the French language settings must almost certainly go to Fauré’s version (listen above). Apart from La lune blanche, he set eight other poems from the poet’s collection, borrowing Verlaine’s title for the resultant song cycle: La Bonne Chanson.

For comparison, here are two other settings from composers as diverse as Reynaldo Hahn…

…and the young Igor Stravinsky…

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…which only leaves you a further 134 to complete your set!

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