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Michel Lambert: Le repos, l’ombre, le silence

Airs de cour were the songs of late 16th, early 17th century France. It’s a huge repertoire to which Michel Lambert contributed many extremely beautiful compositions. Lambert (c.1610–1696) was a composer and singer, and also famously taught singing. His contemporaries, magistrates, famed musicians, musicographers, etc., called him things like “Amphion of our days,” and considered him “the best master to have appeared in centuries.”* Indeed his airs are characteristic of all the sensitivity and nuance one would expect of the songs of a famous singer and teacher of singing.

This song, to an anonymous poem, has always struck me as particularly moving. In it, the “secluded place” to which the text refers—a quiet, darkling forest, cloistered, safe for confession—becomes a metaphor for song itself. And perhaps when I hear it, I imagine Lambert himself singing, telling us about his songs: what they are, what they mean. Sure, it’s just a song, (“though I speak only to a forest…”), but a song can hold so much.

Stillness, gloom and silence: 
everything here compels me to divulge 
my innermost troubles;
relating my suffering brings me solace, 
though I speak only to the forests;
at least, however, my woes are told. 

If you would speak, leaving nothing unsaid, 
you are free to do so in this secluded place. 
You need have no fear at all of listening ears: 
relating my suffering brings me solace, 
though I speak only to the forests; 
at least, however, my woes are told.

*Anthony, James R., and Catherine Massip. 2001 “Lambert, Michel.” Grove Music Online. 20 Apr. 2019.

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