Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Paris in July: Musique de France

It's July, and time to head to Paris.  Paris in July is a month-long event sponsored by Tamara @ Thyme for Tea and Karen @ BookBath.  During July, participants will be learning and sharing about all things French.  For my part, since I know very little about anything French or Parisian, I will be dedicating each of the four weeks of July to learning about one area: French music, France through Movies, France through Literature and, of course, French Food.  First up is music.

This was truly starting from zero - I couldn't name a single French composer or singer, so  I began with current music.  Did you know that France has it's own version of American Idol called Nouvelle Star?   I listened to a few videos there and was surprised that many of the songs were American/English rock/pop songs -  sung in English.  I'm not sure why this surprised me - guess it was just something I had never thought about, even though I know that many American artists are popular in other countries and make world tours.  Since my curiosity was up, I Googled the current French music charts and discovered some familiar names like Snoop Dog and Black Eyed Peas.   I listened to the non-English entries in the Top 5 for the week, and discovered that French pop music sounds much like American pop music, except I couldn't understand the words.  Oh, wait - I can't understand most of the words in English either - so make that "exactly
like American pop music".  Moving on...

... I found that the music exchange goes both ways.  Les Feuilles Mortes (music by Joseph Kosma, lyrics by Jacques Prevert) was written in 1945 and introduced in the 1946 French film Les Portes de la Nuit.  In 1947, American songwriter Johnny Mercer wrote English lyrics and it became the pop standard "Autumn Leaves".  The film by the same name (1956) starred Joan Crawford and featured the song as sung by Nat King Cole.  Here is the French version, performed by Andrea Bocelli:

Another French song, Comme D'habitude, became an American classic when Paul Anka, after hearing the song while traveling in Paris, acquired the rights for free and wrote English lyrics, unrelated to the previous French lyrics.  Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1969 under the title, My Way.

Petit Papa Noel is a Christmas song written in 1946 by Raymond Vincy and Henri Martinet, and popularized in the film Destins.  It is currently the best-selling single of all time in France, with over 5 million sold (according to InfoDisc).  I became familiar with this song as performed by Josh Groban on his 2007 album Noel.

Moving farther back, I listened to some French folk music and read a bit about French opera.  I won't pretend to teach you anything about either one, but I have to share that I fell in love with the music of Claude Debussy, quite by accident.  In my quest for information about French classical composers, I found Wikipedia's simple alphabetical list of French composers.  I skimmed through, clicking here and there for more information, but Debussy was by far the most familiar name on the list to me.  His name was followed by "
He wrote 'Clair de Lune' from Suite Bergamasque".   Clair de Lune?  I've heard of that.  No one who has taken more than two years of piano lessons hasn't heard of Clair de Lune!  A quick search on Grooveshark revealed that I did NOT know Clair de Lune.  At least not as performed by a classical pianist rather than a 10-year-old.  And I was instantly head over heels in love with this music!

Clair de Lune is probably best recognized from the Bellagio fountain scene at the end of Ocean's Eleven. 

That is the full orchestra version, but, in my opinion, you have to hear it in it's purest form - piano only - to fully appreciate.  Listen again!  

In the spirit of using Paris in July to learn something new, I found the piano sheet music to Clair de Lune and am challenging myself to play it.  No amount of practice, practice, practice will ever get me near Carnegie Hall, (or near to Mr. Malinowski's performance in the YouTube clip) but I hope to eventually be able to at least make myself smile.


  1. What a great challenge and I like the way you are attacking it. All the videos were excellent. Good luck with your personal challenge to play Claire de lune until you smile. Let us know how it goes.

  2. I'm impressed. I just spent a week in Paris and didn't learn a thing other then it is the most beautiful city in the world. I put you into my reader today and thanks again for stopping over and visiting with me.

  3. Thanks so much for the info...I confess that I know very little about French music, except a bit of classical. Have you ever heard Hyacinthe Jadin? Certainly not one of the Big Names in classical music, but I love his compositions.

  4. I spent a good amount of time in France after college and discovered some artists that I really liked, including Serge Gainsbourg and Paris Combo. I adore Keren Ann who sings in English and French. This is a great challenge. I look forward to seeing what you write next. :)