NaBloPoMo XIII: What I’ve Been Singing This Week: La Pastourelle

The melody to Canteloube’s La Pastourelle is lovely. This version, in Langue d’Oc, is by French mezzo Veronique Gens.

The pastoral convention sometimes uses the device of “singing matches” between two or more shepherds, and it often presents the poet and his friends in the (usually thin) disguises of shepherds and shepherdesses. Themes include, notably, love and death. Encyclopaedia Britannica

I’ve already written about this song – been ‘having a go’ at it for a while and I’m going to be performing it in a concert at the end of the month. (As I’ve said before, I never let an opportunity go by for humiliating myself, preferably in front of a large number of people). I’m embarrassed, it’s only last week that the penny dropped on the meaning of the song.  I couldn’t find any information on it in terms of why the composer wrote it and its lyrics were a puzzle.

I first heard La Pastourelle, listening to it over and over, on a nine-hour overnight flight. It saved me from going mad. I was the filling in a sandwich. The slices of bread on either side of me were two snoring men.  The song’s from an album: Songs of the Auvergne which were composed in the 1920s by Joseph Canteloube and recorded by the late Arleen Auger.

Here’s a translation of the lyrics, (the original is in Langue d’Oc) which I’ve taken from the libretto of Canteloube: Songs of the Auvergne (Sony: Essential Classics). The singer is Frederica von Stade accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Come over to this side!
Ah, come across the river!
Come here close to me!
For we will talk business
And the rest of the day
We will talk of love!

But I cannot cross!
How could I do it!
I have no arched bridge,
And I have no boat;
Not even a shepherd
Who loves me faithfully!

You would soon have a boat
If you were pretty!
You’d have an arched bridge,
And you’d have a shepherd
Who’d be faithful to you
Even to the grave!

You see? The lyrics aren’t exactly poetic, are they? And I don’t think this fellow’s going to get lucky with this line of chat-up.

Actually, the lyrics are poetic. In fact, La Pastourelle translates to Pastoral which is an ancient genre of literature, art and music.  From Encyclopaedia Britannica:

{The Pastoral} … presents the society of shepherds as free from the complexity and corruption of city life. Many of the idylls written in its name are far remote from the realities of any life, rustic or urban. Among the writers who have used the pastoral convention with striking success and vitality are the classical poets Theocritus and Virgil and the English poets Edmund Spenser, Robert Herrick, John Milton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Matthew Arnold.

The tradition of the Pastourelle in France continued through the troubadours and trouveres of southern and northern France respectively. Canteloube was clearly au fait with the genre when writing his Songs of the Auvergne.

The Pastoral in art reached its zenith in 19th century landscape paintings of the Romantic school.



About AnnIsikArts

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