Canteloube – Chants d’Auvergne, excerpts from Books 1 & 2

by Max Derrickson

Joseph Canteloube   (b Annonay, France, October 21, 1879; d Paris, November 4, 1957)

Chants d’Auvergne, excerpts from Books 1 & 2
Love affairs with folk music go back long before Marie-Joseph Canteloube (de Malaret) began his five volumes of folk songs, Chants d’Auvergne, from 1923 through 1954.  Although folksongs for the concert hall had been created by many well-known composers (Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven, to name only a few), those were an artistic endeavor and a different kind of affair from the more academic ethnomusicology of Canteloube’s contemporaries such as Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly.  Canteloube, in a way, bridged the gap between the two approaches by using folk melodies directly but giving them orchestral clothing, sometimes sparse, sometimes lavish, but generally keeping as true as possible to the song’s originality and intentions.

 

Canteloube’s life-long passion for folk music came by him honestly.  He was born and raised inFrance’s beautiful southern region called theAuvergne, which is famous for its cheeses and rich culture of folksongs and dances.  As a boy, Canteloube’s father brought him on frequent walks in the countryside, both of them glorying in the farms, mountains and the provincial life filled with the “peasant arts” as folkways were then called.  From an early age Canteloube was utterly enchanted with the soulful and delightful melodies ofAuvergne’s indigenous music.  His family encouraged and supported his evident musical abilities which eventually led him to study with French composer Vincent D’Indy (1851-1932).  D’Indy’s influence on Canteloube is evident in his Impressionistic and Wagnerian composing style, but with regards to the importance of folksong they were peers.  Both composers esteemed folk music as a more pure expression than what Art music had become (to them) in its overly academic estrangement from the listener.  It was while studying in d’Indy’s music school, the Schola Cantorum, that Canteloube found his conviction that “peasant songs often rise to the level of purest art in terms of feeling and expression, if not in form.”

 

[. . .]  The language of the songs is Auvergnan (also known as Languedoc/Provençal) which is the language of the Auvergnethat has been somewhat disinherited by France, but is still spoken by a fair number of Auvergnats today.  Some historians believe it derives from the Gaels and influenced by Latin, but there are some words in the translations of tonight’s text that you’ll notice are untranslatable due to this.  Musically, Canteloube has mimicked one of the most famous instruments of the region which is the cabrette (meaning “little goat”), a bagpipe made of goatskin.  So popular was the instrument that in social gatherings most songs wouldn’t have been sung without its accompaniment.  Canteloube’s frequent use of the oboe and clarinet throughout the Chants is often a clear reference to the special tone of this provincial instrument.  In addition, the Chants often take the form of  ancient dances from the region, in particular the bourée, which was a dance common in Auvergne and Biscay in Spain in the 17th century, danced in quick double time, somewhat resembling the gavotte.  Bourées were used by some composers (Bach comes to mind first), often as a dance-movement in a suite, but also for independent pieces.  Over the centuries, as is common in folk traditions, the dance form mixed with song forms of several types, its new associations mixing with its old.  Some of the blithest songs in Canteloube’s collection are these sweet bourées, and especially beautiful are the cabrette-style cadenzas with oboe and clarinet that separate the three bourées, Water from the Spring, Where shall we go to graze? and Down there In Limousin.

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