Kurt Weill: Je ne t’aime pas

Written by Amy Burton

Soprano

July 19, 2017

Having escaped the Nazi takeover of the German government, Kurt Weill found himself in Paris in 1933, trying to get a foothold in a new artistic landscape.  His reputation there was solid, though based mostly on the 1930 French film and stage versions of The Threepenny Opera (L’Opéra de quat’sou), which had been popular.  Still, at thirty-four, Kurt Weill was essentially starting over.  “[Weill] arrived in Paris with very little beyond his good name” says Brecht and Weill scholar Pamela Katz, author of The Partnership.   Luckily, he met cabaret and film star Lys Gauty, who commissioned two songs from him: Complainte de la Seine, and this one.  With so many Weill performances influenced by the whiskey baritone of the latter-day Lenya, this performance by Gauty (1934) reminds us that this song was written for a young and glamorous cabaret singer.

Even though Je ne t’aime pas wasn’t written for Lenya, in my opinion, her Surabaya Johnny fingerprints are all over it. The repeated trope, “I don’t love you” sung by Gauty might well have been Weill’s sentiments regarding his ex, then living in Switzerland with her current lover. When Weill and Lenya reunited before their move to the USA, friends asked how in the world he could take her back.  His reply was, “What can I say?  She’s Lenya.”

Retire ta main, je ne t’aime pas
Car tu l’as voulu, tu n’es qu’un ami.
Pour d’autres sont faits le creux de tes bras
Et ton cher baiser, ta tête endormie.
Pull back your hand, I don’t love you
For you wanted it, you’re just a friend.
The crook of your arm was made for others
And your dear kiss, your sleeping head.
Ne me parle pas, lorsque c’est le soir
Trop intimement, à voix basse même
Ne me donne pas surtout ton mouchoir :
Il renferme trop le parfum que j’aime.
When it’s evening, don’t talk to me
Too intimately, nor even in a whisper
Do not give me your handkerchief
It holds too much of the fragrance I love.
Dis-moi tes amours, je ne t’aime pas
Quelle heure te fut la plus enivrante ?
Et si elle t’aimait bien, et si elle fut ingrate
En me le disant, ne sois pas charmant.
Tell me your loves, I don’t love you
What hour was the headiest to you?
And if she didn’t love you, or she was ungrateful
While telling me, don’t be charming.
Je n’ai pas pleuré, je n’ai pas souffert
Ce n’était qu’un rêve et qu’une folie.
Il me suffira que tes yeux soient clairs
Sans regret du soir, ni mélancolie.
I didn’t cry, I didn’t suffer
It was only a dream and foolishness.
It’s enough for me that your eyes be bright
Without evening regret nor melancholy
Il me suffira de voir ton bonheur
Il me suffira de voir ton sourire.
Conte-moi comment elle a pris ton cœur
Et même dis-moi ce qu’on ne peut dire.
It’s enough for me to see your happiness
It’s enough for me to see your smile.
Tell me how she captured your heart
And even tell me what can’t be said
Non, tais-toi plutôt… Je suis à genoux
Le feu s’est éteint, la porte est fermée
Ne demande rien, je pleure… C’est tout.
Je ne t’aime pas, ô mon bien-aimé.
No, be silent instead. I’m on my knees
The fire is out, the door is shut
Don’t ask me anything, I’m crying. That’s all…
I don’t love you, Oh, my beloved
Retire ta main, je ne t’aime pas
je ne t’aime pas
Pull back your hand, I don’t love you
I don’t love you

Amy Burton

Amy Burton enjoys an eclectic career of opera, concert, and cabaret.  She has sung with major opera companies and orchestras throughout the US and Europe, including the Metropolitan OperaNew York City Opera, Zürich Opera, L’Opéra de Nice, Scottish Opera, among many others. She has also sung at the White House.  

A lover of French song, Ms. Burton appears frequently with her husband, composer-pianist John Musto in recitals and cabaret, Recent concerts include New York’s Cafe Sabarsky, the National Arts Club, Wave Hill, Barcelona’s Liceu, the National Museum for Women in the Arts, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. Together they have made several recordings, including Songs of John Musto, Souvenir de Printemps, and Got a Little Rhythm for Bridge Records.

A sought-after teacher, Ms. Burton is on the voice faculty at Mannes College of Music and the CUNY Graduate Center DMA program. She also teaches, coaches and directs at SongFest at Colburn in Los Angeles. 

Amy Burton has been honored to perform on twenty-one NYFOS concerts, and is a proud member of the NYFOS Artists Council.

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Good post on a great song. Pity there’s no mention of the talented lyricist, author and occultist Maurice Magre…

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    I read somewhere that the song was from the point of view of a woman singing to her same sex lover.

    Reply

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