Chanson française/ Chanson limousin: From Maurice Ravel’s Chants populaires


I had a conversation a couple of years ago with an older gentleman friend of  mine in Spain. He said that his country had lost its custom of singing out loud. He remembers a time when women sang while doing their chores at full voice in the neighborhoods where he grew up.  Here in the States the working song has definitely lost its ground.  I recently went to Santo Domingo for a singing engagement at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and I did notice that in this country, people very much still sing out loud. People sing while they are stamping your passport, at the bank, even loudly as they are walking down the street.   The spirit of this lovely lost custom of singing ditties out loud for sheer pleasure was to inspire a programming choice very soon…

For my upcoming concert on June 25th 2013 in New York city at the Gabarron Foundation, which is being sponsored by the Embassy and the Permanent Mission to the UN of the country of Malta, I decided to program a small set of folk songs set by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937), his Chants populaires.  Several of the songs are in lesser known European languages. Happily, the chanson espagnole is in Galician, the language spoken in the northernmost part of Spain known as Galicia, with which I have had some experience with. The Chanson française of this set is in  Limousin, a dialect that comes directly from the language Occitan, an “endangered” language, spoken mainly by persons over 50 in the southwest region of France (in Charante and the Dordogne).  Occitan is related to the language spoken in Catalunya (Spain) as well as certain regions in France and Italy.  So, I embarked on the adventure of finding someone to teach me how to say this text.  I called the Alliance Française in New York City, but alas, no teachers there spoke this language.  I found two interesting websites, one of them dedicated to the survival of this language, Occitanet, with a guide to pronunciation. The other website was an announcement of  NYC/Occitan musicians self named troubadour collective that perform here in NYC from time to time,  the NY’ OC, who actively promote music from this language and culture.  I emailed one of the troubadours, and one called Domenja kindly sent me the IPA of the text of Chanson Française set by Ravel.  Many of the recordings on youtube have the pronunciation in French.  Cecilia Bartoli does do the limousin in her commercial recording “Chants d’amour”, but I wanted one more version for comparison. I found a wonderful recording by Gabriel Bacquier and Dalton Baldwin, with beautiful images to accompany the little ditty, which is about a little pastoral romance:

Text in limousin:

Janeta ount anirem gardar,

Qu’ajam boun tems un’oura? Lan la!

Aval, aval, al prat barrat;

la de tan belas oumbras!

Lan la!

Lou pastour quita soun mantel,

Per far siere Janetan Lan la!

Janeta a talamen jougat,

Que se ies oublidada, Lan la!

 The IPA translation:

Ianeta unt anirem garda,

caiəm bun tems yn’urə ? Lan la !

Abal, abal, al prat baʀat ;

l a de tan bɛləs umbrəs !

Lan la !

Lu pastu kitə sun mantɛl,

per fa siere Ianetan Lan la !

Ianetə a talamen iugat,

ke s’i ɛs ublidadə, Lan la !


Jenny, where shall we go to tend the flock,
And enjoy ourselves for an hour? Hey ho!
Down yonder, down yonder, in the gated meadow,
There are so many lovely shadows there!
The shepherd takes off his cloak
And makes Jenny sit down. Hey ho!
Jenny had such a time of it,
That she quite forgot herself. Hey ho!

The IPA matches  the pronunciation of Mr. Bacquier, with these two references, one can piece it together and sing this text perfectly!

Here is the Hyperion Record link with excerpted program notes to the disc by Canadian baritone Gerard Finley; I heard this artist at the MET’s’ Pelléas et Mélisande a few years ago, I’m sure this disc will not disappoint:

Limousin is of course directly related to the language of the texts set by Joseph Canteloube his lovely Chants d’Auvergne, with which I have become enamoured of, via the touching and unaffected interpretations of the Ukranian soprano Netania Davrath:

The natural expression of Davrath, her at times almost naive vocalism (done to match the text), which then soars into lines of such beauty and purity are breathtaking. Its an honest expression, which seems like such a simple thing, yet is in my opinion the greatest of all achievements for any performing artist across the genres. Davrath’s recorded version (originally two LP’s) of the Chants d’Auvergne is available on iTunes and on Amazon. I am now a fan of this wonderful artist.


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