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A French Song Companion by Graham Johnson

A French Song Companion (edition 2002)

by Graham Johnson (Author)

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Title:A French Song Companion
Authors:Graham Johnson (Author)
Info:Oxford University Press (2002), 568 pages
Collections:Your library

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A French Song Companion by Graham Johnson



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This book is the bee's knees if you're interested in French vocal music. I've been working on some Poulenc just now; the translations here have opened my eyes to how cryptic and deceptive French colloquialisms as used in modern poetry can be. If you're not a native speaker and you need to decipher, say, some Apollinaire to sing, you aren't going to make it with a Collins Abridged. The composer biographies/evaluations are chatty, slightly eccentric, fun to read and wear their subjectivity on their sleeves. Songs about cats are meticulously underlined. ( )
1 vote defaults | Aug 29, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Johnson, Grahamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stokes, Richardmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0199249660, Paperback)

Filling a long-standing need with great success, A French Song Companion is one of the most welcome books of the year. The translations of the French poetry (fine work by Richard Stokes) are almost as rewarding as the originals. Great care has been taken with line breaks and separation of stanzas; the acrostic of Apollinaire's "Carte postale" and the sweep of his "Bleuet" are seldom observed as they are here.

These translations, mercifully, are not of the forced-rhyming type, and the more obscure references are helpfully footnoted. Poems are grouped under composer chapters rather than (as in Philip L. Miller's The Ring of Words) by poet. Though coverage is of necessity not complete for each composer (more on Saint-Saëns and Milhaud would have been useful), there are still hundreds of poems included, even extending to the chamber music and orchestral song genres.

Stokes has reached deep into the poetry. His is the only translation of the second of Ravel's "Five Greek Songs," in which the pilgrims are "buried" beneath the church, that makes sense. Each composer chapter also has an opening essay by peerless song pianist Graham Johnson (the one on Satie is especially interesting), and he even covers non-French composers who set French texts. (He finds Leonard Bernstein to be "not the most retiring of composers.")

Johnson shares the insights of a lifetime of intimacy with these songs; his description of "en sourdine" could not be more helpful. There are a few Britishisms, and space did not permit the translation of poetic lines not set by the composer, but this book is nothing less than essential in an age when so many CD releases are without texts. Though the asking price is steep, this volume surely will never be bettered, and it is particularly well bound for years of rewarding use. --William R. Braun

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:31 -0400)

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