Tag Archive | trad music

La brune habillée en soie

Towards the end of the summer, I went through another French Canadian music phase, this time focused on albums by De Temps Antan, including À l’année, Les habits de papiers, and Consolez-vous. I came across the song “La brune habillée en soie” (The brunette dressed in silk), which I quite liked and also reinforced my impression that there is really only one Québécois song, and all songs express facets of that one ur-song. Actually, the most significant overlap I can detect is between “La brune habillée en soie” and the song “Les larmes aux yeux” (With tears in (one’s) eyes) by Le Vent du Nord. Both are from the point of view of young men who are disappointed in love. Both young men say that if they’d known things weren’t going to work out, “j’aurais pas tout dépensé mon argent” (I wouldn’t have spent all my money) on frivolities (exactly which frivolities varies between the two songs). In both cases, the object of his affections replies (and here again the lyrics are extremely close) that if he spent his money, it was because he wanted to, and how many times had she told him politely to leave because he was wasting his time?!

“La brune habillée en soie” also has the line “C’est par un beau dimanche au soir” (It was on a nice Sunday in the evening). In this case, that’s when some people come tell the young man his brunette has changed lovers, but for me the line echoed “Par un dimanche au soir” (One Sunday in the evening) from Le Vent du Nord’s “Vive l’amour” (Yay, love), which is a fair bit more cheerful. I guess everything exciting always happens on Sunday evening.

“Les larmes aux yeux” and  “La brune habillée en soie” differ in that in the former the young man never seems to have gotten anywhere with the young woman (i.e. it’s all in his head, she’s already committed to a young officer) while in the latter it seems the young man and the young woman were actually together in some sense (though conceivably it could all have been in the young man’s head too, who knows) and she leaves him. That’s probably why the second young man is more bitter at the end of the song. In “Les larmes aux yeux,” he just talks about drinking to heartbreak and saying goodbye with resignation, but “La brune habilleée en soie” ends with the vindictive lines: “Un jour viendra, ta beauté s’en ira / Chère Léona t’épousera qui pourras” (One day your beauty will be gone / Dear Léona, you’ll marry who you can (then)).

Une Jeune Pucelle

If you, like me, have spent a lot of time reading hymnals, you might know that most hymns, in addition to having a title, have a tune name that identifies the music, separate from the text. The other day I was playing the Christmas carol “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” (I know, it’s still Advent! But it’s in a minor key, so it’s okay!) from a Presbyterian hymnal and noticed (not for the first time) that the name of the tune was “Une jeune pucelle” (French for “A young maid,” where “maid” has its most archaic sense). (The only song I’ve ever learned with the word “pucelle” in it is “Au chant de l’alouette,” a Québécois song the counselors at Voyageur camp would sing to us after we’d settled down for the night in our tents.) “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” is itself a French Canadian Christmas carol. The original text was written in the 17th century by Jean de Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary, in Wendat (Huron). The tune is evidently older, though.

Here’s an arrangement of “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” by Cantus:

I looked up “Une jeune pucelle” to see what I could find and discovered it was a song about the Virgin Mary. It’s very pretty, but the tune of “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime” strikes me as having migrated somewhat from that of “Une jeune pucelle”:

Then somehow I discovered that “Une jeune pucelle” developed from an earlier song, “Une jeune fillette” (“A young girl”), which turns out to be about a girl (no longer–or rather, not yet–the Virgin Mary) who is made a nun against her will and wants to die. Fun times. It’s much more clearly the same melody:

And finally, if you’re not sick of this, here’s a great track from the album In the Fields in Frost and Snow that’s called “Huron Carol” (another name for “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”). The Huron Carol is really only the instrumental part at the beginning, though; then there are two songs in French, one about starvation and the other about one’s clothes only having one button.

Round About Our Coal Fire

First, a couple of news items:

Now on to the main event, yet another song connections post! Last Friday I went to the UCLA Early Music Ensemble’s fall concert, which was entitled The City Cries: 300 Years of English Joy and Sorrow. There was Purcell, Dunstable, Byrd, Jenkins, Morley, and…Playford! Playford, publisher of The Dancing Master, a 17th century collection of dances and dance tunes for English country dancing. One of the tunes, performed on violin, viola, and viol, was “Old Simon the King,” and upon hearing it I 1) detected that it was in 9/8 and 2) thought it sounded rather like another English country dance tune I knew.

I thought that tune was “Old Wife Behind the Fire,” but when I looked that up I discovered I was wrong, so I went back to the program for the 42nd Annual English-Scottish Ball, my last folk dance ball at Swarthmore. We had danced to the tune I was thinking of at that ball, and the next morning several of us had it stuck in our heads. The program told me the tune I wanted was “Round About Our Coal Fire” (so I had the bit about fire).

It would seem I’m not imagining things because I uncovered some evidence that the two tunes are related.

The song that has stuck with me most since that concert, however, is Henry VIII’s “Hélas Madame” (which I fancy bears some vague resemblance to my other favorite Henry VIII song, “Pastime With Good Company”). I’ve been enjoying the Québécois early music ensemble Skarazula’s recording.

 

Gaping Graves, Summer Doldrums

The blog’s been quiet because my July has been pretty quiet. I spend my days looking for a dissertation topic and wrestling with Efik data in the air-conditioned Phonetics Lab and my evenings drafting what I hope will be my next book after Wildings. This time a year ago I was playing music in the mountains at Camp Kiya, and I kind of wish I were there again this year…

I’ve been listening obsessively to Nightingale’s album Three. I learned to play the reel Mariposa (third tune on Track 3) on fiddle and went down a few French/French Canadian music rabbit holes. It never ceases to amaze me how rife French songs are with roses and nightingales. Also, does anyone else think Nightingale’s intro to The Flying Tent (third tune on Track 6) sounds just like the beginning of “Heaven on Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar?

A couple of friends of mine are on a Midwestern road trip, and they told me they were listening to Sparkers as they traversed Minnesota in my honor! Not only that, but one of them, a shape note singer, let me know when they got to “gaping graves.” This phrase is a tiny nod to The Sacred Harp buried somewhere in the book, and as far as I can recall this is the first time a shape note singer has told me they found it!

 

Unorthodox Adventures

I swear this is not a French Canadian music blog. Probably.

But today I bring you another recent find, “Les Cousinages” by Genticorum.

The text is from the point of view of a newly wed man. On the first night of his marriage, a man comes knocking on the door, and his wife says he’s her cousin. They invite him in, feed him, and set up a bed for him beside theirs. That night, the husband discovers his wife in the arms of her “cousin.” He sarcastically concludes, “When one has a beautiful wife, all men are her cousins.” It’s quite funny. (Actually, it’s pretty misogynistic… As an aside, I have this–quite possibly mistaken–impression that English folk songs tend to be about badly-behaved men while French folk songs tend to be about badly-behaved women. I can already think of exceptions, but I think it’s time to close these parentheses.)

There’s lots of information about this song in Chantons la chanson by Marc Gagné and Monique Poulin, another book published by L’Université Laval. There, it’s entitled “Le Premier Soir de mes noces” (“The first night of my marriage”), or “Le Mari et le Cousin” (“The Husband and the Cousin”). They recorded the version sung by Rosée Doyon of Beauceville, Beauce. The tune looks different from Genticorum’s, and the text is too (even the nonsense is different!). Astonishingly, they include a phonetic transcription, in the International Phonetic Alphabet, of the words as sung by Rosée, and it’s full of characteristics of Québécois French.

According to Gagné and Poulin, versions of this song are widespread in Canada, France, and Belgium. They make this observation (my translation): “The anonymous authors of traditional songs seem to have had a particular taste for narrating certain unorthodox adventures of conjugal life.” Finally, there is apparently a word in French, maumariée, which looks to be derived from “badly married” and specifically means “a traditional song about conjugal misfortune.”

Cannonballs in April

There’s this very pretty song I’ve liked for a while called “Le 10 d’avril” (“The 10th of April”) by Les Charbonniers de l’enfer, a Québécois group. It’s about some people sailing to France when a corsair (I didn’t know that was an English word! It means a privateer) fires cannonballs at them, wounding one of the officers. As he’s dying, the crew somehow gets some American officers (conveniently close at hand) to fetch his sweetheart so they can see each other one last time. Don’t ask me how that works (aren’t they out on the ocean?), but the sweetheart arrives and says she’d exchange all sorts of things (her gold ring, etc.) to heal him.

Then, just the other day, I listened to a song called “Le Vingt D’avril” (“The Twentieth of April”) by another Québécois group, Genticorum. And I realized it was a different version of the same text. For one thing, in one version the ship leaves on April 10th and in the other on April 20th… There are also other differences, but some lines are almost identical. The tune is completely different, though, and I have to say I think Les Charbonniers de l’enfer’s is much prettier.

Searching for the origins of the text, I found it as “La Mort du colonel” (“The Death of the Colonel”) in Vision d’une société par les chansons de tradition orale à caractère épique et tragique by Conrad Laforte and Monique Jutras, volume 27 in L’Université Laval’s Les archives de folklore. The tune printed in this book is clearly related to the one Les Charbonniers de l’enfer sing. The book gives a couple of different versions of the text, plus lots of variants of individual verses. Among all these variants, the ship alternately leaves on the 12th, the 15th, the 21st, or the 25th of April (none of which match the dates in the two versions above!). Or just in April, generally. Or in May. The main version in the book was sung by one Sévérin Langlois, age 59, on August 25th, 1966 in Cannes-de-Roche, Québec. And the book says that there are 127 versions of this song: 1 from Belgium, 7 from the U.S., 8 from Switzerland (a…land-locked country?), 26 from France, and 85 from Canada.

Captain Kidd’s Wondrous Jacobites

Yes, it’s another song connections post! At this point, this should probably be a formal blog series/feature, except each post is lazier than the last.

I recently encountered the song “Ye Jacobites by Name,” and as I listened to it, it struck me that it sounded like “Captain Kidd.” You can read a bit about this piratical song here and listen to Tempest’s rock version here. (Funnily enough, one of Wikipedia’s “Selected recordings” of “Captain Kidd” is… Owen Hand’s “Ye Jacobites by Name.” The Wikipedia page for “Ye Jacobites by Name” says nothing about “Captain Kidd.”)

Now, I first heard of “Captain Kidd” when someone told me it was the “same” as the shape note tune “Wondrous Love” (known as a hymn to many non-shape note singers). So by transitivity “Ye Jacobites by Name” = “Wondrous Love.”

As it happens, someone else has already done all the genealogical research into the history of these songs. You can read all about “Ye Jacobites by Name,” “Captain Kidd,” “Wondrous Love,” and much more here.

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“Captain Kidd” in The Shenandoah Harmony

And speaking of shape note tunes, the newest shape note book, The Shenandoah Harmony, has a song in it called “Captain Kidd.” The text, however, is not “My name is Captain Kidd, as I sailed, as I sailed,” but rather “Thro’ all the world below, God is seen all around.” You can listen to the Shenandoah Harmony tune here.