This beloved 20th century art song floats in on a cloud of nostalgia. The narrator recalls a single moment – most of us have experienced at least one – where time stood still and everything was right in the world.
Robert Hillyer's poem awakens the senses as he recalls the sights, sounds and scents of being in love while living abroad at age twenty. The memory becomes more intoxicating with each new detail: It was a summer morning. Perfect greenery hung overhead. The sidewalks smelled of fresh rain as they were being washed down.
American composer Ned Rorem spent a formative decade of his own life living in France from 1949-1958. He brings the poem to life with a lilting melody and gently rocking gestures in the piano. Perhaps there is a single twinge of longing for the pleasures of youth as the narrator looks back on that distant moment; but then again, there is pleasure in keeping the memory alive across the years, too.
As you listen to this song, perhaps you will take a moment to resurface your own memories of youth, travel, and love.
Please enjoy this performance, featuring myself with pianist Mark Bilyeu, live in concert on February 2, 2017 at the State Street Gallery in Chicago.
La vie en rose is the song that launched cabaret singer Édith Piaf to international success. The original 1947 Colombia Records pressing of the single sold a million copies in the U.S. and was the number one best selling single in Italy that year. Piaf, who authored the lyrics, collaborated with a number of composers on the music, although the musical authorship was ultimately attributed to Luiguy. This became one of Piaf's signature songs and was included on most of the subsequent albums she recorded in her lifetime.
However, success was hardly prescribed in her life. She fought to overcome many difficult circumstances to achieve success as a chanteuse, starting right from the beginning when her mother abandoned her at birth. She was raised in a brothel until age 14, when her father took her on the road and trained her as a street performer and acrobat. She became a young mother herself at age 17, and overcame extreme stage fright to make her cabaret debut at age 20. Music changed the course of her life over the next 10 years, until 1947 when she would record La vie en rose.
Knowing the basic facts of Piaf's life, one can appreciate the sentiment of this song even more. The title translates as "Life through rose colored glasses," and the lyrics describe the protective emotional cloak that a love affair can provide at it's height. "When you press me to your heart / I'm in a world apart / A world where roses bloom." This bittersweet sentiment was at the core of Piaf's greatest hits and very identity: life may do its best to break you down, but as humans we can still find beauty when we choose look for it.
I hope you enjoy this performance from Fourth Coast Ensemble's March 3, 2020 Between the Lines concert, featuring my own rendition of this iconic song with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!