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Reynaldo Hahn: D’une prison

This week, I’ll be sharing a new song each day to remind you (and myself) that how we use this time at home is as varied and limitless as our collective imagination.  There’s at least one song, if not hundreds, for everything we’re experiencing in this singular moment, and it wasn’t easy to pick five!  But I hope my choices delight, inspire, move, and comfort you, as they do me. 


La vie est là

It’s April, and unlike concerts and classes, spring isn’t canceled! This miraculous season, the perennial symbol of rebirth, redemption, and hope, is here, and the timing just couldn’t be stranger.  We want to be out but are mostly just looking out.  Watching the news can be terrifying, but looking out the window (or better yet, taking a walk) can be uplifting. This week alone, I saw tulip magnolias, forsythia, cherry trees, apple blossoms, and even azaleas burst open in their dazzling display. Birdsong fills the trees below my window. Apparently nature doesn’t know about the quarantine, and she is gifting us with her beauty at a time when we really need it.  

Another reliable source of beauty is the Venezuelan/French composer Reynaldo Hahn.  His song, D’une prison, with poetry by Paul Verlaine, feels like a balm for the stressed soul, with its atmosphere of utter tranquility. There is only one brief moment of angst in this gentle song, as the poet rails at himself for wasting his youth being unhappy.  Verlaine’s poem ends on this angry note, but Hahn makes the choice to return to the serenity of the song’s first phrases. His music tells us: Nothing should prevent us from appreciating the exquisite beauty of this world, even as we acknowledge its fragility.  Life is all around us, in here and out there

“D’une prison
by Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947); Paul Verlaine (1844-1896)
performed by Lore Binon, soprano and Inge Spinette, pianist

Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
  Si bleu, si calme!
Un arbre, par-dessus le toit,
Berce sa palme.

La cloche, dans le ciel qu’on voit
Doucement tinte.
Un oiseau sur l’arbre qu’on voit
Chante sa plainte.

Mon Dieu, mon Dieu, la vie est là
Simple et tranquille.
Cette paisible rumeur-là
Vient de la ville.

Qu’as-tu fait, ô toi que voilà
Pleurant sans cesse,
Dis, qu’as-tu fait, toi que voilà,
De ta jeunesse?

[Le ciel est, par-dessus le toit,
Si bleu, si calme !]
The sky, over the roof, is
So blue, so calm!
A tree, over the roof,
Is rocking its fronds.

The bell, in the sky that you see,
Gently rings.
A bird on the tree that you see,
Plaintively sings.

My God, my God, life is there,
Simple, and sound.
That peaceful murmuring there
Comes in from the town.

What have you done, O you,
Now shedding endless tears,
Tell me, what have you done,
O you, With your young years?

[The sky, over the roof 
Is so blue, so calm!]

– translation by Amy Burton and Regan Kramer

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