Maurice Ravel composed his Trois Chansons in late 1914 and early 1915 following the outbreak of World War I. Using his own texts he wrote music for mixed a cappella choir that hearkens back to the traditional French chansons of the late Medieval and early Renaissance eras. Ravel dedicated the songs to people he thought could help him enlist in the military, and he ultimately enlisted in March of 1915, helped by Paul Panlevé to whom the second movement is dedicated.
"Trois beaux oiseaux du Paradis" depicts a girl (portrayed by soprano Sarah Van der Ploeg) whose beloved has gone off to war. Three birds representing the colors of the French flag each bring a remembrance of her love—a glance of blue eyes, a kiss of purest white, and a loving heart of crimson. "Ah, I feel my heart growing cold," says the girl as she begins to understand that she will never see her love again.
Ravel sets the solo voice against a wordless chorus that often serves as something of a drone, and offers a continual refrain of "my love has gone to the war" to create a haunting atmosphere. Trois Chansons is the only music that Ravel wrote for a cappella choir, and after hearing this song one wishes that he would have composed more.
Fourth Coast Ensemble performed these songs on our What a Zoo! concerts in June of 2019. We were joined by guest vocalist Ashley McKinstry.
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