The Songs of the County of Foix
Protected by their mountains, strangely enough, and in spite of the works of a Gabriel Fauré whose boiling lava they invariably constitute, the songs of the County of Foix (Las Cansos del Païs de Fouïch) have escaped all attempts at true classification or precise musical restitution, far from this Law of the North, decreed as it was from Pamiers (1st December 1212) by Simon de Montfort and enforced with fire and sword by his barons — on the basis of raison d’état and accompanied by the blessing of the clergy; songs handed down unfailingly as passwords from generations to generations in a people known for its dignity and its sense of freedom powerfully expressed in a few burning moments of History, Gasto Febus very quickly giving back to the vanquished of the albigensian Crusade hope for a new independence. Ancient songs, moving in their mystery for they do not sing the soil in spite of circulating on the roads of the Midi, to the sound of the lute or of the psaltery or in the furrows of the plough, and Songs by authors, of more recent ecriture, in praise of the native land and with the presentiment of Progress destroying not only bears and wolves, but also causing to disappear a language (if not a message) knowingly passed over in silence or killed.
Indeed, how much credit to give to the university thesis of the Professor-Rector Michel Chevalier, La vie humaine dans les Pyrénées ariégeoises, Paris 1956, a work decreed fundamental by historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, graduate of reputed institutions (Normalien, agrégé de l’Université, Professor at the College of France, Director of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France) and compiler of the trifle: Montaillou, village occitan (Gallimard), the ‘modest historian’ Le Roy Ladurie perfectly illiterate in the field of Oc language and literature, as he does recognize himself, not without panache, thesis, published with the help of the Ministry of Education, in which the author informs us — among other bragging — that the celebrated motto of the County of Foix: ‘Tocos-i se gausos!’ (Touch it if you dare) is translated by ‘Touch it if it pleases you’, when every native knows that this is the proud answer of a little shepherdess held in a tight grip by the Count of Foix in some corner of the pasture land; thesis passed, that goes without saying, with unanimous and very honourable congratulations from sorbonnard juries probably in an advanced state of lexicographic hibernation (‘May the gascon get there, if the French can’t’, wrote rebellious Michel de Montaigne!).
Also, what to deduce from the calculation of these ‘30 days which run from 13 april to 13 june
of the year 1210’, as added up by this Professor of Wallonie, so-called expert on the albigensian Crusade and transferred to the Sorbonne in order to, allegedly, teach us our mother tongue, a mathematical operation that leaves Prof Stephen Hawking’s computer speechless.
The Latin records of the inquisitor Jacques Fournier (born in 1285 at Canté, near Saverdun, County of Foix and who became Pope in Avignon in 1334 under the name of Benedict XII) staying rather strangely mute on the position of the official Church vis-à-vis the profane songs in the vernacular (ô Duvernoy!) which have come down to our day such as spread by the troubadours, jongleurs or other writers (Escrivans?) — among them l’Anonyme, author from Foix of the 2nd part of the Cansos de la crozada — can one, nevertheless venture to suggest that behind the words and the sound of most of these texts in the language of the people (ô Marrou-Davenson!), the most insignificant at first hearing (La Jano, Lé chot,Aval, aval i’a uno pradèto) or the best known (La Canso dels dalhaires, Lé Bouiè) or the most grandiose (Aquéros mountanhos) are hidden in reality implied meanings and secrets echoing alone in the soul of the herdsmen or in that of the harvesters, for only the words and the sounds could oppose the implacable deployment of animal ferocity by the men of spiritual justice (‘as one says in my country, where the blessing doesn’t work, the stick will’, thus spoke in Prouille, 15 August 1217, Dominique, Spanish doctor born in the old Castille, inventor of the rosary, variant of the surah abacus of the Muslim Brothers, professional preacher and founder of the order of the preaching Brothers, canonized in 1234) perfectly enabling the essence of the desperate resistance of the Pure against the troopers of backward civilizations to be handed down: simple words or naïve sounds, keys for the access to a universal thought destined to build a social organization without excessive rigours, counter to the ribaldries and cesarisms of the eternal moment.
How, indeed, to believe that the only truth about the heretics be the one constructed from avowals extorted from those condemned by the Inquisition, ‘And it could be that without it there would not be a Catholic church at all today’, the Red Pope Jean Dutourd, of the Académie française (France-Soir, 7-11-1998) is pleased to say, thus cheerfully taking up again on his own account, the objurgations of one Lothaire Segni, alias the pope Innocent III, in his appeal to the Christianity of 1208: ‘No pity with these criminals, worse than the Sarrasins’, Lothaire Segni, former student at the university of Paris, to whom, he points out ‘I owe all I know and all I am worth’. Remarks patriotically further developed by the historians Ammann and Constant in their Histoire de l’Europe et de la France jusqu’en 1270: ‘Louis IX was a saint on the throne, but a French saint’, a judgment that will prompt a scathing retort (under the oak?) from Louis-Ferdinand Céline, also travelling from one castle to another: ‘Saint Louis, the cow! ... worse that Adolf the bloke... Ah! the Saint Louis... canonized, 1297! ... we shall hear about that again! ...’
These condemned by the Inquisition, handed over to torture and death by interrogators carted along with theimpedimenta (baggages) of Crusaders that came from the North under the banners of an inexorably transalpine orthodoxy, sometimes transpyrenean (ô Simon, ô Dominique, ô Aquinas!), orthodoxy auto-sustaining itself with the help of incantatory litanies indefinitely psalmodized by a mass of unearthers of Tables, of unrollers of Papyrus, of robbers of Charts, doctors comfortably fitted into their chairs-cathedra, labouring at clearing their throat (ô Jobelin Bridé!) of their gregorianized History in front of adorers thirsting for authorized beatification, some from the sacred Dominican Places to the Mountain St-Geneviève (not to forget these Sessions of religious history based at the Dominican Centre of Fanjeaux, Sessions placed under the high authority of the President of Paris-IV Sorbonne!), some from the hills of Palestine to the flatness of Flanders (let us not ignore the Hebraic University of Jerusalem and its occitanic antenna at 16 rue de la Sorbonne!) some from the valley lands of Tübingen to the snows of the Fuji-Yama (let us not omit those assault sections, linguistically trained in the gascon language by Herr General Ernst Gamillscheg, before being dropped over the Haute-Ariège and there rapidly captured for insufficiency in local pronunciation, then regrouped outside the station of Saverdun, near Canté, County of Foix!), those worshippers who see themselves, finally, enthroned in the rabelaisian ‘sorbonagreries’, established and all, of the rue des Ecoles, in Colleges de France limited to sauce-making a touch bearnaise or in National Centres of Approximate Research (the fin’amors, kesako?); all this moving magma untiringly stirred by vertiginous authors of railway station novels à l’occitane, or onerously lifted by diplomatic beauticians in want of beauty products, who are bent on giving back to the wrinkled face of ‘catharism’, a facies in the best possible truly gnafronesque tradition, in order to better turn it into a puppet show, if not into a soap-opera (Landowski and Plasson’s courtesy!) without any real importance other than that of fattening the geese of the ‘Grrrrrand Théâtre’ (Gabriel Fauré dixit) or the ducks of the Halle aux grains (Corn Exchange) and this for the maximum benefit of the ‘ululators of the church’ (thus the Toulousain Pierre Garsias challenged the Franciscans, those of the torturebench), if not other simpletons, handlers of quavers, rough and ready composers, depositing their clay statuettes at the feet of an idol of Stone.
All these legions of righters of conscience perfectly incapable, for sure, of understanding, of speaking or of singing the language on which they discourse, each and everyone fac-similators of the ‘losange’ (slanderous denunciation) carefully hidden away in the manuscript 4030 of the Vatican library and such as indulgently duplicated in the dens of Robert de Sorbon, chaplain and confessor to Louis IX, in myriads of theses, antitheses, holy theses awaiting the ‘Nihil obstat’, for the greatest glory of the whole caboodle, or, more simply, of St-Anne (ô Dr Rouquet!) and who are still, after 700 years offol’erranza (be it of quantum nature) or, if one prefers the Somme patois, of douchereux errements (be they of canticle nature), at the stage of praising the merits of a form that, in frank wallon speak, would be worth ‘nothing’; which would thus fully justify, eschatologically if not scatologically, the natural conclusion of the anonymous author of the Vie de Ste Catherine, in Picardy patois, in order to better mark, securely and once and for all, the Occupant’s territory:
‘E tout li kien de la contree
Pisseront sus ganbe levee’.
* * *
This initial message, initiatory for some, the last patois speakers of the deep countryside, those not crowned by the laurels of a Certificate of Primary Studies duly stamped by the Academies of the North or by the duke of Levis-Mirepoix (Académie Française) who had promised us, a few weeks before his death, to try to learn the langue d’oc, the language spoken by the tenants of his lands formerly confiscated for the benefit of the inarticulate speakers of the language of the Franks, the very ones who, according to François Mauriac (Académie Française) held the handle of the pan in which they fried the produce of the land, i.e.these heretical maintainers of an idiom which one brands with the name of patois, idiom spoken by the gascon tenant-farmers of the wine-grower Monsieur Mauriac (alias ‘ciboire’, a label conferred on him by Louis-Ferdinand Céline); in truth a language illustrated by more than 500 troubadours, absolute source of the European lyrical poetry (ô Bédier, ô Frappier, ô Legentil and tutti quanti!), a language practised by the whole of Southern Europe, for centuries, and, nowadays still, in all its dialectal romance variety: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Romanian, etc., and which marked, in the well-known way, the thinking of a few Nuremberg ideologists (these latter, had they not planned in 1944 — with the help of the Wehrmacht — to give an Exceptional Concert within the very walls of the Castle of Montségur (County of Foix, 1207 m), Concert finally taking place (kolossal jubilee if ever there was!) in 1984, under conditions no less exceptional (cf. Dépêche du Midi, 16-07-1984).
* * *
This initial message, then, we have tried to hear it, perhaps to make it heard, in this restitution of the songs characterized by a vocal resistance, always valid in terms of event, even if, in the words of Gabriel Fauré: ‘folk songs are not enough to create a national art of music. They must form its base, a substratum as it were. It is necessary that musicians, true musicians who know their craft thoroughly and are equipped with the creative gift, take inspiration from them’. Gabriel Fauré, let us do him this justice, always remained faithful to the camp of the heresy (in June 1911, he presided over the Committee for the erection of the Monument of Esclarmonde), Gabriel Fauré who, incidentally, never missed the annual reunions of the Ariégeois resident in Paris where ‘patois’ was spoken (the composer from the Ariège being in full command of his ancestors’ language) and where the assembly would sing in unison the Arièjo, moun Païs, by Sabas Maury, parish priest at Varilhes, but also the no less famous montségurian quatrain of always living actuality:
‘L’autre joun la paouro Anno
Assiètado al pè del foc
La camiso rehussado
Andé’l tchoul buffabo al foc...’
* * *
N’Esclarmonda (Esclarmonde, in francilian dialect), her name is cited for the first time in the poem of the troubadour Guilhem Montanhagol: Non an tan dig li primier trobador (They did not say everything, the first troubadours), lines whose translations or interpretations as proposed, urbi et orbi, by the All Philology, are a source of amusement, since, following the works of the ‘learned’ professor P.-T. Ricketts (Les Poésies de Guilhem de Montanhagol, ‘Pontifical’ Institute of Medieval Studies, Toronto, Canada, 1964), the Institut de Langue et Littérature d’Oc of the Faculty of Letters of Paris was to recall Her, in 1978, to front line actuality in the field of romance philology, by proposing the study of this ‘tornade’ to the sagacity of its Escholiers, if not to that of the nomenclatura of the Word, the one born from Adam’s orgasm, a non-exhausive name-list of which (Doctors in fol’amor and Jugglers of Our-Lady merrily intermingled in an interminable défilé behind a Pompom girl of the philological Crusade) can be perused at the end of the book Tristan & Isolt (IMA-Press, Moscow, 1994), work dedicated to professor Jean Boutière, director-founder of the Institut d’Etudes provençales et roumaines of the Faculty of Letters of Paris, president-founder of the Congrès internationaux de Langue et Littérature d’Oc, director of the collection Les Classiques d’Oc, Ed. Nizet, the Director Jean Boutière whose name, one would look for in vain inside the walls or in the bibliographies of the said Institut!
* * *
N’Esclarmonda, we also evoked this name on the occasion of our paper: La Canso de Gasto Febus à Frédéric Mistral (Congrès FILLM, Aix-en-Provence, 1978, see Proceedings), a reminder, it seemed to us, essential for the elucidation of the problem posed which is: ‘Koinè lyrique’ ou ‘Voix d’un Peuple?’, response, should there be one, to the buccinantal declaration of the duc de Lévis-Mirepoix, of the Académie Française: ‘Certains countries have what I shall call a musical key’ (in Historia, november 1976: Les Cathares contre la France), premonition or ultimate confession of this Marshal of the Faith (awaiting the consolamentum?), such as he was pleased to make it known to us in his last letter from Léran (4 April 1981). N’Esclarmonda, a name that was once more recalled on the occasion of the Exceptional Concert of 15 July 1984 in the heart of the very ruins of the fortress of Montségur, at nightfall, homage to the resistance of the Oc soul in the face of the cantors of the eternal veni creator spiritus of the Temples of Jerusalem, of Mecca, of Rome or of other holy places in need of illumination.
* * *
The 108th Congrès des Sociétés Savantes (Grenoble, April 1983) was to allow us to reach the Iles d’Or (Lis Isclo d’Or) of the Provençal land, that of Frédéric Mistral who, no more than the Félibres, had not forgotten ‘Esclarmonde, the star of Montségur’, as he was pleased to homerically describe her.
The Songs of the Félibres
‘Lou Soulèu me fai canta’ (the sun makes me sing) Frédéric Mistral liked to repeat to the painter-musician Bonaventure Laurens who had just completed his portrait — he had also signed that of Gounod — while insisting on the importance of light and music as the trigger of his lyrical inspiration; the painter who, for his part, deplored the absence of a piano in Maillane, an instrument that would have enabled him to accompany Roumanille, Aubanel, Seguin and others, not to forget Charloun Rieu and Frédéric Mistral, of course, when they started, full of verve, the Song of Magali or other pearls of the Oc soil. For Mistral in person put his voice into it, ‘warm and musical’, later ‘sometimes distant, mysterious and veiled’, be it to sing the Coupo Santo, like a‘high priest officiating before the crowd of the faithful who sang in chorus the responses’, be it to repeat the refrain of the loose song dedicated to Pope Clement V by Félix Gras, or be it to give all the details of the risqué couplets of the Maillane people targeting the inhabitants of Saint-Rémy:
La farandoulo de Trenco-Taio
Li gènt soun tóuti de canaio!
La farandoulo de Sant-Roumié,
Tóuti li gènt pisson au lié!
maliciously thus translated by Mistral:
‘The farandole of Trinquetaille,
All the dancers are canaille!
The farandole of Saint-Rémy,
A salad of piss-en-lit’,
or the remarks of comparative appreciation fired at the girls of Valence (li Fiho de Valenço sabon pas fai l’amour, li de Prouvènço lou fan la niue, lou jour) or targeting the misses of Avignon, a city where one finds much amusement. Unforgotten the anecdote of Alphonse Daudet perched on the narrow bridge-parapet and terrifying the passing bourgeois by a thundering ‘This is where we drowned Marshall Brune!’, the very Daudet who, meeting a wedding on Trinque-taille bridge, wagered that he would kiss the bride. No sooner said than done! but the matter nearly turned nasty: ‘Into the Rhône with the villains! into the Rhône!’, exclaimed immediately 20 gentlemen-in-waiting, fists raised in the direction of Alphonse and ... Frédéric, his comrade-in-fun.
When dining, Denis Poullinet, one of his close friends reports, Frédéric told a thousand tales of wonder, but loved to impose his favourite songs: Les Célibataires, created for Ranquet’s wedding, or the Chanson des Conscrits, little mischievous works, not in any way casting a shadow on the laments or hymns he remembered with fervour for being brought back by Madame Mistral-mother from pilgrimages to Sant Gènt, Saintes Maries or more simply Graveson.
In no less moving a register, Mistral, the poet patriot of Occitania, went for this atavistic lyricism, these particularities of the People of the Great South whose Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise constituted, he said, the ‘Bible of our nationality’, exactly as he saw in the spontaneous songs the ‘removed leaves’ of the New Testament of this Bible, leaves whose number he did not hesitate to increase, helped in this by his friends of the Félibrige, since he assigned to his songs a practical part in his doctrines and his battle. For Mistral had not forgotten either his first meeting, in the Café dóu Soulèu, with Rosa Bordas, the Mountelenco, a singer to whom he devotes an entire chapter in his Memori e Raconte(Memories and Tales), the woman from Monteux who nonetheless did not première for him either the Coutigo or his other songs, or, of course, Mirèio.
At last Mirèio came...
‘But, Master, she will never be able to sing this!’ exclaimed Saint-Saëns, frightened by the vocal means required from a Miolan-Carvalho in order to produce all the detail of the air de la Crau in the initial version of Mireille; to which Gounod answered: ‘she will have to sing it’, opening inordinately his terrible eyes...
It is well-known that the critic Scudo reproached the composer of Faust with making a ‘useless’ journey to Provence. On 23rd March 1863 Gounod had discreetly installed himself under the name of Monsieur Pépin at the hotel Ville Verte at Saint-Rémy, helped in this by the organist, Monsieur Iltis, director of the Orphéon, since Mistral, whose permission he had asked to set Mireille to music, had encouraged him: ‘you have come into the world to discover Provence... you are holding it, your Opera!’. Hence, Gounod made the ‘useless’ journey to Provence, while the score of Mireille re opened the debate about a music whose melodic frankness and harmonic elegance — putting into Sunday-best the naive little peasant girl of the Mas du Juge, far from the lyrical pomposity of the soubrettes and marchionesses of the 18th century or the romantic heroines who succeeded them — could definitely not lead to French cancans the Offenbach way.
Gounod often went to Maillane, read to Mistral the libretto Michel Carré had drawn from Mirèio (‘it moves him, he weeps...’), betook himself as far as Nîmes to reserve a piano from the maker Dumas, had it hoisted into his room on the 2nd floor of Ville Verte, bought a folding stool, music paper, stayed for many hours in the dale of Sant-Clergue (‘I was literally drunk with joy; motives came to my mind like swarms of butterflies, I only had to stretch out my arms to catch them’), wandered through the paths of mas du Peyrou, mas de Gros; mas du Juge, mas Chastuel, climbed the steep slopes of the Baux, reached at last the Saintes-Maries de la Mer in order to better join the heroine who had just crossed on foot ‘the vast plain and the desert of fire’ of this Crau which, on first hearing it, alarmed so much Camille Saint-Saëns, if not a certain conductor of more recent date, unable to speak one word of Provençal, who ignored the stones of this very Crau in the conditioned air of some Mercedes (ô Mirella!).
* * *
Professor Saint-Gor, who had proudly declared into the microphone of the Faculty of Letters of Aix on the occasion of the Centenary of Mireille, 1959: ‘la littérature n’est pas mon fort ni mon domaine’ (litterature is not my forte nor my domain) — Monfort soit qui mal y pense! — before publishing three four-liners dried up by dint of contemplating the desert of the Crau, plus six alexandrine four-liners to crown the montagne Sainte-Victoire, the probable plume of a scientifico-literary career so brilliantly re-furbished by his Liège biographers in 1270 pages of Mélanges that they eclipse the well-known aroma of the Sévigné: ‘we hear that the Minims of our Provence have dedicated a thesis to our King where they compare him to God but one sees clearly that God is only the copy’, professor Saint-Gor, then, also known by the appellation ‘Marc-Antoni l’oouriginaóu’, according to the definition of the lexicographer J.T. Avril (Dictionnaire Provençal-Français, Apt, 1839), ever since he had discovered that the illustrious author of the Life of Marius was the no less celebrated lover of Madame de Sade, ‘it’s obvious’, ultimate revelation whose boastful historicity can be tasted inFrance Latine (n° 75/76), the very official Review of 16 rue de la Sorbonne, and this before asserting with a prosaically dry pen that, to his knowledge, ‘there was no performance of a Mirèio in Provençal at Marseille in 1914. All the works that I have consulted and the memories of the Félibres who knew Mistral, etc.’, the director Saint-Gor, August Cesar, thus expressing himself categorically if not ultra-categorically in his scientific denials (letter dated 13 February 1978) these latter vigourously confirmed by the currently practising lady-thesismaker, herself chatechismic producer of a 600 pages long catalogue of a jonglaro-troubadouresque logorrhœa (1170 gr on the scales of Notre-Dame butcher’s shop in Village d’Auteuil), a laborious stringing-together of couplets without music, probably in order to better illustrate the medieval distichon:
‘Cobla ses so es en aissi, co’l moles que aigua non a’
(a couplet without music is a mill without water)
Dau, dau, tambourin, boutas vos en trin!
No less categorical, however, the Marseille press, in this context the Petit Marseillais of 11 July 1914 who headlined: ‘Tonight at 8h15 we shall witness a great artistic event in the open-air theatre Athéna-Niké. In order to enable Gounod to compose the immortal pages of Mireille, M. Carré wrote his libretto after the Provençal poem by F. Mistral. It is this libretto which was recently translated, very satisfactorily, too, by Pascal Cros and Jean Monné. The interpretation of Gounod’s masterwork has been entrusted to outstanding artists, all of Provençal origin. They are the excellent tenor Martel who comes back to us from the Théâtre de la Monnaie; the eminent artist Marcel Boudouresque who triumphed again hardly a few days ago, at the Opéra-Comique; the exquisite Maryse Recam, also from the Opéra-Comique, whose voice has developed astonishingly; the superb baritone M. Janaur who celebrated many triumphs at the Khedivial Opera, Cairo; the charming dugazon of the municipal Opera of Marseille, Miss Michaël, finally the ladies Lise Pierson and Marcelle Nicolas and Messrs Berton and Rivet.
75 choristers of the Concerts Classiques and the Athéna-Niké will provide, together with the orchestra of the municipal Opera, an imposing frame-work to be ably conducted by Mr F. Rey...’
And the paper adds: ‘The Readers of the Petit Marseillais will be well-advised to secure their seats and their special tramway tickets at the box-office of the municipal Opera, rue Molière (tel. 3.58)’. Book a seat, yes, but in which language reserve it by telephone considering the advertisement of 9 July which is presented in the form of a dialogue between the inquirer from Ventabren in Provençal and the box-office lady who ends up by saying: ‘I say! Sir, when one speaks a foreign language, one has to be accompanied on the phone by an interpreter... Thank you’; and the inquirer concluding: ‘Aquelo empego! Parei que sian d’estrangié à Ventabren!’ (That’s a bit thick! seems we’re foreigners at Ventabren!). And this was in 1914! notes Paul Nougier, director of the Rampau d’óulivié, who tells us this handsome story (letter of 17 October 1978).
On 13 July 1914, this very Petit Marseillais was triumphant: ‘Mireille, the opera by Gounod, is sung in Provençal for the first time and to much applause.
This was good; even very good. Some had received this initiative with scepticism: the performance in Provençal of a lyrical opera of essentially Provençal origin. It turns out that the event has dispelled their fears. Mirèio, interpreted by our own singers, expressing themselves in our harmonious idiom, was crowned with success by an extremely large audience which filled the vast hall of the Athéna-Niké Saturday night. The translation of the French libretto, entrusted to the properly Provençal poets Pascal Cros and Jean Monné, the former our friend and collaborator in this paper, has led to the production of an original work. And the Provençal language, which is, as everyone knows of a deliciously musical essence, added its charm to Gounod’s music’. And the Petit Marseillais concludes, half fig (from the Sorgue?), half grape (from the Crau?): ‘The task of bringing together singers mastering the Provençal accent was, admittedly, somewhat difficult; strictly speaking, the interpreters did not all speak perfectly the language of the farming people of the Crau or the Camargue. Credit had to be given to some for their application which, for the most part, bore fruit; to others for their natural ease in handling a language which is not exactly that of lyrical opera. Mirèio in Provençal, crowned by success in an open-air theatre of such high renown, now only had to take the road to Arles, which happened yesterday. And it was a road to victory’.
No less categorical, finally, the press of Arles of 14 July 1914, the day after the performance of Mirèio, where one could read: ‘the orchestra tunes up its instruments for the performance of Mirèio, the Mireille by Gounod, whose libretto was translated into Provençal for the occasion. Does the translation produced by Mr Pascal Cros, a Marseille félibre, at least convey a Provençal appearance to this work without Provençal character? I fear, not, and that it is necessary to merely praise the pious intention... When the subject of a translation of Mireille was discussed, Madame Mistral declared very categorically that as far as she was concerned, her authorization of the performance was dependent on a translation in pure rhodanian language. The promise was made and its observation placed under the control of Mr Jean Monné, Majoral of the Félibrige. What happened? I don’t know, but on hearing the work we noticed that Marseille words, the Marseille patoisformerly practised (la Sartan), were teeming in Mr Cros’ text. The house was not the oustau but the meisoun, which has never been Provençal and constitutes only one example among a thousand...’ And Jean du Comtat regrets: ‘And this although one could have drawn abundantly, at least for the dialogue, on the very text of Mistral’s poem! Very luckily, the breeze quickly broke up and did away with a large proportion of the spoken part of the work, and Gounod’s melodies allowed the remainder to pass without too much difficulty’; while Falco de Baroncelli, in vengeful mood, threw fistfuls of verses at the immense crowd, crying: ‘Vengue li jouino chato!’ (To us, the young girls!). Did they not celebrate in Arles theFesto Vierginenco?
All this stuffiness leading ‘Parlo Soulet’ (the Félibre Louis Gros, from Avignon) to note a few years later (Le Provençal 1st February 1950: A propos de la version en Provençal de Jean Monné) that there are two adaptations in Provençal of M. Carré’s libretto, which can be sung perfectly well to Gounod’s music. The first is by Raoul de Candolle, the second by Jean Monné who was Félibre Majoral... Parlo Soulet who, in the same article, wished to entrust the production of a Mirèio in Provençal to Marceau Pierboni, originating from Saint-Rémy and its spirit and a ‘stage manager of whom we know that he loves this work, understands it and is able to stage it by putting into it his own Mistral-soul...’
Marceau Pierboni (letter dated 26 October 1979) was to detail accordingly: ‘To my knowledge there is no trace of Jean Monné’s Provençal version. Léon Bancal, former Director (deceased) of the daily Le Provençal, grandson of Jean Monné, who was interviewed on the subject by one of my friends interested in this question, had declared to the latter, with regret, that in spite of patient searching he had failed to discover this manuscript among his grandfather’s numerous papers, to his surprize, too, for there is no doubt that several copies existed which were necessarily used at the time for the study of the work... Perhaps you know that two other versions, preceding Jean Monné’s (Pascal Cros’ share in this work is practically non-existent), had been produced and hardly discussed at all. The first was the work of a scholar from Saint-Rémy, Adolphe Michel, who had frequented Gounod during his stay in Saint-Rémy; this poet, who died in 1904, had carried out his work on the original version of Mireille which he transcribed entirely. The second version is by the Félibre Ravous de Candolo who died in Aix in 1915. There is hardly any more trace of these two than there is of the one under discussion (Editor’s note: Mr Marcel Bonnet, Félibre Majoral, had assured us nevertheless in his letter of 20 January 1978 that he was in the possession of the manuscript of the libretto-translation of Mireille into Provençal by A. Michel, a manuscript which was passed to him by A. Michel’s granddaughter).
Perhaps one could try to find an explanation for this absence. It is strange, on the one hand, that Frédéric Mistral’s widow, whose fierce intransigence is well-known, should have allowed not only the adaptation, but also the performance of a Mireille other than the one accepted by the Master.
On the other hand, it would be surprizing, had M. Carré, the author of the libretto, and especially Paul Choudens, the publisher, not had their say in the matter. It is possible that in the mind of the one as well as in that of the others the performance (perhaps tentative) in Marseille and the, let us say, ritual one in Arles, were to remain the only ones...’
* * *
On 19 March 1864 — as predicted by Saint-Saëns and notwithstanding, Frédéric Mistral’s presence — Madame Miolan-Carvalho choked hopelessly on the aria of the Crau (yet, she was born in Marseille!), although, as a matter of precaution, she had sent, beforehand, stamped paper to the composer to oblige him to withdraw these ‘vociferations’. She had also demanded a waltz-arietta: ‘swift little swallows’, the only piece to give rise to thundering applause at the work’s première, prompting the ‘you are always right!’ of a disenchanted Gounod to strutting Director Carvalho (who was a native of the île de France (Mauritius).
The press of 1864 certainly spoke of ‘dull work’, of ‘diluted and discoloured’ music, of ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon, on y crève, on y crève...’ Is it surprizing that Mistral, having authorized the work (he had wept at Maillane — as will be remembered — when Gounod had read to him the French libretto by M. Carré), complains in his turn: ‘I have been spoilt, flayed, disfigured, etc.’, admitting, however, that that had earned him ‘a handsome copyright figure’. As for the Félibres(the maintainers of the Provençal language which was admired by Lamartine and won a Nobel Prize for Mistral in 1904), they were sulking: ‘Empachan pas d’amira la Mireille de Gounod, chacun soun goust’. (We won’t prevent admiration for the Mireille by Gounod; everyone his taste), Bonaventure Laurens, for his part, having already warned Mistral: ‘We, the Provençals, we would even like above all that the characters (of the opera) spoke the language of your poem and not French’.
And for everyone to choose their camp, from the avenues of Aix-en-Provence to the last recesses of Europe, to the very limits of the Empèri dóu Soulèu (Sun Empire) the great dream of the Poet of Maillane, Rumania in fact, since Vasile Alessandri, the Rumanian poet, had been awarded the Grand Prix at the Jeux Floraux du Félibrige (Montpellier, 25 May 1878), while 21 Rumanian members of Parliament signed a telegram inviting their ‘latin brothers’ to come to Bucarest.
At the Jeux Floraux de Toulouse, in 1580, had not Ronsard himself obtained the silver statuette for a piece in which he sings his ancestor Banul Mârâcinâ who had come running from the banks of the Danube to bring help to ‘France, mother of the arts, of the arms and of the laws’, thus inaugurating a historical continuity (Nerto, by Mistral, is dedicated to her gracious Majesty, Queen Elisabeth of Rumania, maîtresse ès Jeux Floraux), not disavowed by the University (Professor Boutière was, as we have seen, Director of the Institut d’Etudes provençales et roumaines of the Sorbonne) or by lyrical Art, since Mirèio was to be consecrated on the stage of the Romanian State Opera (cf. Histoire du Félibrige, 1984, by Capoulié René Jouveau, a work crowned by the Académie française: ‘C’est à l’occasion du Cent-cinquantenaire de Frédéric Mistral, en 1980, que, dans la traduction du livret de M. Carré par Claude d’Esplas, la Mirèio de Gounod fut créée en Provençal et chantée par la charmante et talentueuse Monsegur Vaillant s’accompagnant elle-même dans la scène et l’air de la Crau sur le plateau de l’opéra de Cluj-Napoca, le 15 novembre 1982’)* on the occasion of the Exceptional Concert by the singer-concert pianist Monsegur Vaillant who, in pure rhodanian language, gave back to Mirèio this gown of light which she had already provided, a few days earlier, for Verdi’s ‘Violetta’ (Magyar State Opera), just as, or nearly, Verdi’sTraviata had replaced, on the playbill of Paris Opera House, 27 October 1864, Gounod’s Mireille.
We shall leave to Frédéric Mistral (not forgetting our friends, Paul Sellier, Auguste Fabre, Louis Ayme, A. Cornillon and lis Ancian de Maiano) the scanning of the final chord:
‘Mirèio, un bèu matin, cantavo
Mèstre Gounod que l’escoutavo
Aprenguè sa cansoun de cor
E desempièi canton d’acord’.
(Mirèio, one fine morning, was singing
Master Gounod who listened to her
Learnt her song by heart
And from now on they sing together).
‘It was on the occasion of F. Mistral’s 150th birthday celebration in 1980, that, in the translation of M. Carré’s libretto by Claude d’Esplas, Gounod’s Mireille was premièred in Provençal and sung by the charming and talented Monsegur Vaillant who accompanied herself in the scene and the aria of the Crau on the stage of the Opera of Cluj-Napoca, 15 November 1982’.
Claude d‘Esplas (The Music Lesson)
All rights reserved
Arièjo, moun Païs — CD ADG/Paris - n° 2000 3
Lou Cant dóu Soulèu — CD ADG/Paris - n° 2000 4
Gounod Mirèio Mistral — CD ADG/Paris - n° 2000 5