A French Song Companion is an indispensable guide to the modern repertoire and the most comprehensive book of French mélodie in any language. Noted accompanist Graham Johnson provides repertoire guides to the work of over 150 composers--the majority of them from France but including British, American, German, Spanish, and Italian musicians who have written French vocal music. The book contains major articles on Fauré, Duparc, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc, as well as essays on Bizet, Chabrier, Gounod, Chausson, Hahn, and Satie, and important reassessments of such composers as Massenet, Koechlin, and Leguerney.
The book combines these articles with the complete texts in English of over 700 songs, all translated by Richard Stokes, making it also a treasury of French poetry from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. The translations alone will prove invaluable to music lovers and performers; combined with the biographical articles, they become the ideal map for exploring this exciting and diverse repertoire.
Filling a long-standing need with great success, A French Song Companion
is one of the most welcome books of the year. The translations of the French poetry (fine work by Richard Stokes) are almost as rewarding as the originals. Great care has been taken with line breaks and separation of stanzas; the acrostic of Apollinaire's "Carte postale" and the sweep of his "Bleuet" are seldom observed as they are here.
These translations, mercifully, are not of the forced-rhyming type, and the more obscure references are helpfully footnoted. Poems are grouped under composer chapters rather than (as in Philip L. Miller's The Ring of Words) by poet. Though coverage is of necessity not complete for each composer (more on Saint-Saëns and Milhaud would have been useful), there are still hundreds of poems included, even extending to the chamber music and orchestral song genres.
Stokes has reached deep into the poetry. His is the only translation of the second of Ravel's "Five Greek Songs," in which the pilgrims are "buried" beneath the church, that makes sense. Each composer chapter also has an opening essay by peerless song pianist Graham Johnson (the one on Satie is especially interesting), and he even covers non-French composers who set French texts. (He finds Leonard Bernstein to be "not the most retiring of composers.")
Johnson shares the insights of a lifetime of intimacy with these songs; his description of "en sourdine" could not be more helpful. There are a few Britishisms, and space did not permit the translation of poetic lines not set by the composer, but this book is nothing less than essential in an age when so many CD releases are without texts. Though the asking price is steep, this volume surely will never be bettered, and it is particularly well bound for years of rewarding use. --William R. Braun