Chanson des escargots qui vont à l’enterrement - (2003)
for soprano and piano
for Natalie Limonick
A l’enterrement d’une feuille morte
Deux escargots s’en vont
Ils ont la coquille noire
Du crêpe autour des cornes
Ils s’en vont dans le soir
Un très beau soir d’automne
The text is under copyright and therefore not fully reproduced herein.
from Paroles (1946)
Jacques Prévert (1900-1977) was associated with surrealism and "pataphysics," and his poems are typically about life in Paris and life after the Second World War. Prévert also wrote a number of screenplays for French film director Marcel Carné, among them Drôle de drame (Bizarre, Bizarre, 1937), Le jour se lève (Daybreak, 1939) and, perhaps most famously, Les enfants du paradis (The Children of Paradise, 1945) which is a particular favorite of mine.
Two snails went to the burial of a dead leaf.
They had black shells with crêpe on the horns.
They left in the evening, a beautiful evening in autumn.
But when they arrived, it was already spring.
The leaves which were dead were all resurrected,
and the two snails were very disappointed.
But then the sun -- it was the sun which said to them,
"Take, oh take the sorrow, the grief that weighs on you....
Take a glass of beer, if the heart says so to you; if you wish take the bus to Paris.
It leaves tonight. But do not take the grief. It is I who says this to you.
That blackens the white of the eye and then spoils the tales of the coffins.
It is sad and not happy. Take back your colors, the colors of life,
and then all the beasts, the trees and plants began to sing to themselves
the true songs of spring." And all had something to drink and toast.
It is a very beautiful evening, a beautiful evening in summer,
and the two snails returned home.
They went warmed and happily, because they had drunk much.
They staggered a little. But high above in the heavens
-- the old moon was over them.
The setting opens with a simple falling gesture, denoting autumn's falling leaves and also characterizing the humorous nature of this story. The rapidly shifting tonal regions rush the story forward, as seasons rush life forward.
An abrupt halt to the tonal shifts creates an arrival point in parallel to the arrival of the two snails, with widely spaced polytonal harmonic colors and whole tone series relationships as harbingers for this change to springtime.
As the sun urges on them a "glass of beer," a densely notated baroque-like decorative counterpoint, also referring to whole tone series over a tonal region of A, carries through the remainder of this "solar" counsel.
The setting ends with a hush as the extremes of the piano keyboard range spread out a cadence on the lowest C, with a distant polytonal "klang" above.
Pianist Natalie Limonick, once a student of Arnold Schoenberg, taught for UCLA and the University of Southern California, coached singers in opera and art songs, and contributed to the musical life in southern California for many decades. She was born in New York City, studied piano at New York's Julliard School of Music, and in 1947 moved to Los Angeles to study with Fritz Zweig and Arnold Schoenberg.
She was one of the first women and Americans to coach at the Bayreuth Festival in the 50s and 60s, and also served as visiting professor at the University of Indiana and University of Texas. In 2002 she endowed the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA to establish an annual symposium on Jewish Civilization, to address a historical or contemporary issue.
Natalie accompanied me brilliantly in recital for the Young Musicians Foundation many years ago, and was an authoritative and supportive colleague, as well as teacher and friend. In a more personal note, she asked me to sing Brahms' Vier ernste Gesänge for the funeral of her own mother, which of course I did without question. Late in her life we also made demo recordings of a number of new compositions by Los Angeles-based composers.
The score for Chanson des escargots qui vont à l’enterrement is available as a free PDF download, though any commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior arrangement with the composer and the estate of Jacques Prévert. Click on the graphic below for this piano-vocal score.
Chanson des escargots qui vont à l’enterrement