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An Evening in Paris
The popular perception of Paris as an easy-going city of romance has been reflected in musical terms since before the Belle Époque. While it does have its own indefinable, individual decadence, in reality its larger conurbation has much in common with its European counterparts, and it is the geography of Paris, its hills, its faubourgs (Montparnasse, Montsouris, Sainte-Genèvieve and others), its lights, its cabarets, the Seine itself collectively, which lend enchantment and an almost palpable mythology. Au soir, amid the music of accordions, Paris becomes either 'Paree' (the canned variant, aimed at the tourists) or Paname - the vibrant, mesmerizing, decidedly seedy and self-sufficient home of its indigenous population.
By the time the Monaco-born composer arranger Leo Ferré (1916-1993) wrote Paris canaille (1953), the market for well-ingrained commercial clichés was undergoing a steady revival, fostered during and after World War II by a long series best-selling French cult 'pops' which won a world-wide audience. Among these, best remembered are La mer (1945; the biggest hit of singer, actor and songwriter Charles Trenet – b.1913); La vie en rose (1945; the timeless theme-song associated with Piaf - with words by the singer herself and music by the Spanish-born Louis Louiguy, b.1916); Antumn Leaves (1946; a hit under its original titles of "Les feuilles mortes" for its creator, the cabaret singer Yves Montand, this was the most famous of many collaborations between the Hungarian-French composer Joseph Kosma (1905-1969) and the Parisian 'song poet' and screenwriter Jacque, Prévert, 1900-1977); Mademoiselle de Paris (1948; by 'Paul Durand', alias Paul Vaudricour (1908-1977), Louveciennes-born conductor of the Casino de Paris).
Moving chronologically forwards from the Second Empire onwards a whole tradition of marketable French music is discernible. We aptly depart with two of the world's best-loved light classics from the German-bom Jacques Offenbaeh (1819-1880): the jaunty Galop (from Geneviève de Brahant - of Gendarmes Duo fame - an operetta of 1859) and the balmy, caressing Barcarolle (a boat-song, in its original form a duet from his posthumously-completed opera Contes de Hoffmann, 1881), while echoes of Parisian pomp of Franco-Prussian War vintage arise with Samhre et Meuse (originally "Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse), a march by the Paris-born Jean-Robert Planquette (1848-1903). A well-known composer of operéttes, Planquette also wrote many chansonnette, and 'saynètes' for Parisian café-concerts.
In every sense a café-concert tune that has "survived", the ever-popular Fascination has a fascinating history. The work of Fermo di Marchetti, a onetime solo violinist at the Parisian Elysée Palace music-hall, this 'Modèle des valse lentes' was written for the cabaret chanteuse Paulette d'Arty, who created it at the Scala in 1905. Rumour has it that Ravel was paid to write this song which, quite apart from a tune "worthy" of Ravel, has 'Valse tzigane' as its subsidiary appellation.
Tres moutarde, while thoroughly French-sounding, is not French at all. An indication of a growing English penchant for "Oo lá lá" Frenchness, this ragtime vaudeville-style one-step tune by one Cecil Macklin began life in London in 1911, subtitled "Too Much Mustard!". The 1920s and 1930s brought trans-Atlantic interchange and cosmopolitanism. There was a market for things French in the USA, for things American in Paris. Hence, after the Creole-American singing dancer Josephine Baker had stripped down to her ceinture de bananes - and occasionally further - at the Champs-Élysées, Chevalier became big box-office news in Hollywood. The tunes of Padilla, Scotto and the Marseilles-born Raoul Moretti (1893-1954) were all the rage in dancing circles. Under The Roofs Of Paris (‘Sous les toits de Paris’) is a case in point, and the many songs (including Montmartre) of conductor-harpsichordist Wal Berg (alias Walter Bergman) ranked among cabaret's best-sellers.
In more modem times, too, the strong Franco-American link has endured. The Belgian author, singer and satirical songwriter Jacques Brel (1929-1978) enjoyed cult status in America with songs like If You Go Away, as did the Toulon-born composer-arranger and singer 'Monsieur 100,000 Volts' Gilbert Bécaud (b.1927). First touring the States as accompanist to Jacques Pills, Bécaud modelled his own singing style on Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray. His Paris Medley includes his own "Si tu partais" ("What Now My Love") and Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" (from the 1953 musical Can Can, filmed in 1960). Still prominent, too, is the Paris-born composer, arranger, conductor, film-scorer, pianist and singer Michel Legrand (b.1932). As "at home" in the USA since his first visits to Hollywood as a jazz-musician around 1960, this quintessentially Parisian son of Raymond Legrand (1908-1974) produced some of the most imaginative film themes of the 1960s and 1970s. World Of Legrand, his potpourri arrangement for orchestra includes, among other hits, "The Windmills Of Your Mind" (from The Thomas Crown Affair, 1968) and "The Summer Knows" (from Summer Of '42,197I).
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EVENING IN PARIS (AN)