Si Mes Vers Avaient Des Ailes ( If My Poem Had Wings) is a French melodie – art song – (equivalent to the German lied) by Venezuelan-born French composer Reynaldo Hahn (1874–1947). There’s an excellent definition of melodie on Wikipedia, which is a type of song composition dating to the mid-19th century. The text of the song is also a poem by Victor Hugo.
Hahn composed this in 1888. To put it in its milieu, in 1888 Picasso was seven years old and already being trained as a painter by his father; Van Gogh moved to Arles, painting there (among many other works, including his Sunflowers series) Starry Night; Paul Serusier painted his enormously influential Le Talisman (on the lid of a box, I believe, but don’t quote me on that); Toulouse-Lautrec painted l’Equestrienne; Debussy composed l’Arabesque, No.1; Gilbert and Sullivan wrote The Yeomen Of The Guard; Toulouse–Lautrec painted l’Equestrienne; the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet, was published; Nietzsche wrote The Antichrist; Thomas Hardy wrote Wessex Tales; Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince was published.
Hahn was a child prodigy. At the age of eight he wrote his first songs. He was accepted into the Paris Conservatoire at the age of 10 and his tutors included Massenet, Saint-Saens and Gounod. Fellow students included Ravel. At 12 he composed a suite based on poems by Paul Verlaine (Chansons Grises). In 1894 he and Marcel Proust became lovers. Their affair didn’t last, but their friendship endured to the death of Proust. Hahn served in the French army during World War I and at the end of World War II, became director of the Paris Opera, though died two years later of a brain tumour.
Susan Graham (Mezzo-Soprano) interprets beautifully Si Mes Vers Avaient Des Ailes in the You Tube video above. The New Yorker says of her voice that it is without regrets. I don’t think the author meant to suggest that it ought to have, but what a peculiar expression. It’s an extraordinarily melodic voice and that’s a fact.
There’s another interpretation of the song on You Tube by the wonderful Felicity Lott. I have her interpretation of Schumann’s song cycle Liederkreis which I’m also trying to sing.