A French Song Companion

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Oxford University Press, 2002 - Music - 530 pages
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The French Song Companion is the most comprehensive book of French melodie in any language. The great accompagnist Graham Johnson, a noted authority of song, provides repertoire guides to the work of some 150 composers - the majority of them from France, but including British, American,German, Spanish, and Italian musicians who have written French vocal music. There are major articles on such figures as Faure, Duparc, Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc; substantial articles on Bizet, Chabrier, Gounod, Chausson, Hahn, and Satie; and reassessments of such composers as Massenet, Koechlin,and Leguerney. A host of less celebrated figures who have contributed to the genre take their place in a book which is both informative and entertaining.The biographical articles are supplemented by the song translations of Richard Stokes, some 700 in all, and a veritable treasury of great French poetry from the fifteenth to the twentieth centuries. These stand in their own right as indispensable to music lovers, concert-goers, and professionalsingers and their accompanists. This is a book which not only reflects the repertoire as found in today's concert halls, but also encourages performers and armchair enthusiasts to explore the neglected highways and biways of an endlessly fascinating and highly civilised body of music.
 

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One should think of this as Pierre Bernac's "Interpretation of French Song" written by and for new generations of scholars and performers.
This is the absolute definitive guide to the history
of French song with translations of almost all of the repertoire (some poems that are not in public domain may be omitted). This book is a must-have for performers of the repertoire, but is not specifically written with performance in mind. Rather, it provides valuable context for every song in the repertoire and complete composer biographies. Prospective buyers should read "How to use this book" (pg. xxxi) for more information about the rigorous cross-referencing and indexing that are among its most useful features.
With authorship by legendary collaborative pianist Graham Johnson, performers can be sure that the most relevant information is included. Song scholar Richard Stokes provides assurance that the information provided meets the highest academic standards, evidenced also by its publication by Oxford University Press.
The importance of this book to the interpretation of French song cannot be overstated.
What this book does NOT have, especially compared its scholastic predecessor by Pierre Bernac, is specific instructions regarding interpretation. While this is a shame for those hoping to learn some of Graham Johnson's secrets, it avoids the inevitable conflict that arises--as in the Bernac--when contemporary interpreters choose to go against the author's performance suggestions. Further, those who have heard Mr. Johnson speak on the subject know that performing without regard for previous interpretations IS one of his secrets.
All said, this is a valuable book that is worth owning rather than visiting a library for, and I do not regret a penny spent on it.
 

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About the author (2002)

Graham Johnson is an internationally famous accompanist Richard Stokes teaches languages at Westminster School. He coaches singers in the interpretation of Lieder and regularly writes programme notes for song recitals at the Wigmore Hall.

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