Folk Songs of French Canada
- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 7 Mar 1929, p. 101-110
- Barbeau, Marius, Speaker
- Media Type:
- Item Type:
- The address assisted by Phileas Bedard, folk singer, Miss Florence Glenn, soprano and Miss Gwendolyn Williams at the piano.
The speakers' field as vast as it is picturesque and diversified, as may be judged from the extent of the collections in the National Museum at Ottawa. How these works came down to us. Each of the four presenters offered examples of folk songs which illustrate the various forms, with accompanying comments. Presentations included a religious song, a dance song, the same song presented in a new interpretation, love songs, a paddling song, a drinking song. The address concludes with some comments on folk songs and their function in various cultures. A look to the future of Canadian culture. Last, Miss Florence Glenn sang four French Canadian folk songs accompanied at the piano by Miss Gwendolyn Williams.
- Date of Original:
- 7 Mar 1929
- Language of Item:
- Copyright Statement:
- The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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- Full Text
FOLK SONGS OF FRENCH CANADA
AN ADDRESS BY MARIUS BARBEAU.
Assisted by Phileas Bedard, folk singer, Miss Florence
Glenn, soprano and Miss Gwendolyn Williams,
at the piano.
7th March, 1929
PRESIDENT EAYRS introduced the speaker and artists. MR. BARBEAU said: It is a pleasure and a great privilege for Mr. Bedard and myself to be your guests a second time and to renew your brief acquaintance with a subject long familiar to us-the ancient folk songs of French Canada.
Our field is vast as it is picturesque and diversified. You may judge of it from the extent of our collections in the National Museum at Ottawa-more than 6,500 records, and the work of compilation still goes on. The origin of our songs alone is a fascinating subject that might arrest our attention. How these valuable relics came down to us from a past age, were brought over from provincial France by the early settlers about three hundred years ago, and since were conserved by generations of reminiscent singers and adapted to new surroundings in the New World-is indeed a colourful and romantic story. It forms a chapter in the history of New France and Canada, our history, and no less fascinating than the best. We would be better Canadians if we knew a little more of these heirlooms of our country. The story of their recovery at the moment when they were falling into oblivion might also be heard with interest; for they have fallen into disuse and survive only in the memory of old people; and we might describe spiritedly our search for them in the Quebec country side, and our plans for their preservation for posterity in our national collections.
But this cannot be done here in the forty minutes at our disposal; there are four of us here, all full of our subject, all wanting to speak and sing together to you. And what is best after all is to give you illustrations in various forms. You will judge for yourselves. And you may supplement our very incomplete programme with whatever you still remember of our presentation of two years ago. It will be to my personal advantage . . . and yours. You will be able to resume your activities before the stock market falls down, and I will have no chance to bore you. Platitudes of speech will perforce be avoided, which a deep sense of respectability enforces upon speakers before large and distinguished clubs. Mr. Bedard and I will give several songs in turn, much as they are to be found in the country laces of Quebec-songs in their natural state. Miss Florence Glenn, a young Toronto soprano, accompanied by Miss Gwendolyn Williams, will follow and show what can be done with these songs when they are offered to you by brilliant artists and interpreters.
Songs were most varied, comprising from the religious carol, the "complainte" and the ballad, down to the ordinary work song and dance.
I will begin with a religious song, a miracle-the Miracle of Saint Nicolas or The King's Nursemaid, which must have originated on the frontier of Switzerland, centuries ago-where the saint is the revered patron. This song was recorded a few years ago among the Acadians of Prince Edward Island.
LA NOURRICE DU ROI.
Un miracle de Saint Nicolas, sung by Mr. Barbeau.
Ah, c'etait le nourrice, la nourrice du roi, Un jour s'est endormie, l'enfant entre ses bras. Dieu, aidez-moi! douce Vierge Marie, saint Nicolas!
Marls quand ell' s'y reveille, en cendre ell' le trouva; Poussa un si grand cri que tout l'monde accoura. Dieu, aidez-moi!
"Qu'avez-vous done, nourrice, a fair' ce grand cri-la? -Oh, ce n'est rien," ditelle, 'Ten ai brule un drap." Dieu, aidez-moi!
Elle entrouvre la porte, a la rivier' s'en va. Dans son chemin rencontre le grand saint Nicolas, Dieu, aidez-moi!
"Ou vas-to done, nourrice, avec ces hardes la? -je vais a la riviere, je vais laver mes draps. Dieu, aidez-moi!
-Tu as menti, nourrice, to noyer to t'en vas. Retourne a la maison, l'enfant to tend les bras. Dieu, aidez-moi!
Dans les bras de la Vierge to le retrouveras, Voila les grands miracles que fait saint Nicol-as." Dieu, aidez-moi!
M. Bedard, a real folk singer, from Saint-Remi, Quebec, will sing a dance song-Ce sont les filles de SaintRemi or the Ransomed petticoat.
THE RANSOMED PETTICOAT.
Translated from French by Edward Sapir.
A sutler's maids are fair and slim, AM pretty girls and trim!
Sweet daughters to the, tavern go To drink a pint or so.
Eighty wine tankards daughters drink,
Five or six pints to a wink.
But oh! 'there's this to pay'.
Their faces went sad with Nay!
Oh! then we must have her petticoat And necklace under her throat.
'Tis well her love came that way Five hundred pounds to pay.
'Give back the maid her petticoat,
And the necklace under her throat!'
Miss Florence Glenn and Miss Gwendolyn Williams will now interpret another version of the same song with a piano setting of my own. And you will see how an old folk song appears in a new garb, that which artistic interpretation may invest upon it.
LE COTILLON RACHETE.
Ce sont les fill's d'un cantinier,
Telalillilai lilalala lai
Ce sont les fill's d'un cantinier; ah! qu'ell's sont jolies!
Oh! gai, ah ah! ahl qu'ell's sont jolies!
Oh, qu'elles sont jolies!
2. Mais ell's s'en vont au cabaret, boire chopine.
3. Ell's ont bier bu quatre-cingt pots, cinq, six chopines.
4. Ell's ont mange quatre-vingt pains, cinq, ou six miches.
5. Ell's ont mange quatre-vingt veaux, cinq, six genisses.
6. Mais quand le temps vint de payer, bien triste mine!
7. "Otez-lui donc son cotillon, et sa coiffure."
8. Mais son amant, passant par la, tir' cinq cent livres.
9. "Remettez-lui cotillon et sa coiffure"
10. "Nous n'irons plus au cabaret, boire chopine."
From this instance alone, it is evident that folk melodies, interesting though they are in the raw, can only gain by being transposed into the sphere of professional music. Before we call again on our delightful collaborators for other interpretations, Mir. Bedard and I will give you more illustrations of folk songs as you may hear them by the hundreds in the country places of Quebec, particularly those that have been least affected by industrial development.
Love songs count among the most numerous in the traditional repertory of French Canada. It cannot be denied that romance and galantry must have been a rich feature in the life of many of our ancestors. Among the outstanding love songs we find the nightingale songs and the aubades and nocturnes, in which the lover, who is also the singer; gives a message of love for his sweetheart to a bird, the nightingale or the lark; in the aubades, the galant sings at his beloved's castle window at daybreak; in the nocturnes, late at night. All kinds of plots and situations are so contrived as to suit romantic fancy.
O WOODLAND NIGHTINGALE.
(Translated from the French by J. Murray Gibbon.)
O woodland nightingale, O nightingale, you rover,
Your tongue to me discover, discover how to tell,
Tell to me all the secret one should know to love well.
The secret to love well I am about to tell you,
To love a shepherd maiden you should this tale repeat,
Telling her: "Dear, my fair one, for you to love is meet.
"For you to love is meet a swain to cull the roses,
The roses that so gaily within your garden bloom.
Let me for them, my fair one, again tomorrow come.
"No, I do not permit the culling of my roses,
Unless one brings the moonlight and in his hand the sun.
Take it from me, young hero, and on your road be gone."
"In what way would you then expect me to convey them?
The sun too bright is burning, the moon too high above.
Do be more kindly humour'd and take me for your love."
In the leisurely days of old, folk songs and tales provided a favourable pastime for all, high or low, on land and on the sea, under the open sky and by the fireside in the long winter evenings. Songs were not all of uniform gravity; they were not all to remind the listeners of pious duties, historical events, or to grace romantic fancies. But even as life is made up of shifting hours of work, rest joy, love and feast, so the familiar melodies chimed in the panorama of an endlessly changing existence in the peaceful countryside, in crowded thoroughfares, or in the sophisticated boudoirs of the nobility. Work in the past was not a mere provider of necessities; it did not banish enjoyment out of life, as it often does nowadays. It was made more attractive by an artistic refinement and a playfulness unfamiliar to the present generations. Work songs of all kinds sustained the rhythm of the hand in toil, while the mind escaped on the wing of romance. Unable as we are fully to realize the importance of the work songs in the past, we may now wonder at their number, hundreds and hundreds left idle by the wayside, among the descendants of the country folk that once sought a new home in the woodlands of America.
Mr. Bedard and I will give two instances of work songs, the first of which is M'en revenant de Chateauguay. It is a very popular song in Canada, but it is known under a number of forms. One of these, beginning with the words,
Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontre Deux cavaliers tres bien montes . . . .
was a favourite paddling song early in the last century. Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, heard his canoemen sing it repeatedly, when he travelled down the SaintLawrence, in 1803, from Kingston to Montreal. He wrote in his memoirs that the simple air he had heard gave him a pleasure which the finest compositions of the first masters had never given him. He harmonized the air and composed new words, which are known to us as his "Canadian Boat Song".
M'EN REVENANT DE CHATEAUGUAY.
Sung by Mr. Bedard.
Wen revenant de Chateauguay, (bis)
DANS LES HAUBANS.
Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontre,
Ouo! Mon p'tit matour lourlour loure Mon p'tit matour roulant roule.
Dans mon chemin j'ai rencontre (bis) Trois cavaliers fort bien montes,
Deux a cheval et l'autre a pieds. Celui d'a pieds m'a demande:
"Ou irons-nous ce soir coucher? . . . . Dans la maison accoutumee.
Des beaux lits blancs sont prepares, Des jolies fill's a nos cotes."
= "Tu as menti, franc cavalier.
Tu coucheras sous l'escalier;
Tu coucheras sous l'escalier, Un quartier d'bois pour oreiller!"
"In the top sails", a paddling song, sung by Mr. Barbeau.
LE NEZ DE MARTIN.
Martin's nose, a comic song, by Mr. Bedard.
Love, dance and drinking songs are plentiful in French Canada. Fertile must be the imagination of the present day song-writer who can discover avenues of thought and emotion that have .not already been visited by his folk predecessors. Drinking songs, hardly less numerous than love ditties, must at one time have enjoyed universal favour, even though grapes were not grown along the Saint-Lawrence. Our modern prohibitive cravings and sense of propriety have not persisted long enough to bring a sense of shame upon our folk singers, who still go on fullthroated eulogizing wine, love and general irresponsibility. Here is one that blends grim humour with a toper's matrimonial infelicity.
"At the tavern", sung by Mr. Barbeau.
Le lendemain que j'me suis marie, )bis
Ma femme a voulu me battre. )
Au cabaret j'me suis en alle
Trouer mes amis pour boire,
Trouver mes amis (ter) Pour boire.
--"Mes chers amis, ne buvons pas tant, )bis
Car je vois venir ma femme. )
Elle est la-bas, elle est sur ces cotes. Je l'entends deja qui gronde,
Je 1'entends deja (ter) qui gronde."
Bien promptement ell' vient au cabaret: )bis
"Sors d'ici, ivrogne du diable!" )
='Du cabaret ah oui! j'en sortirai Quand j'aurai fini de boire, Quand j'aurai fini (ter) de boire."
-"Mon cher mari, ah! si to continues (bis Tu feras perir to famille.
Un pied chausse, et puis, l'autre nu, File a la maison, ivrogne!
File a la maison ((ter) ivrogne!"
Our folk songs are undoubtedly interesting in themselves; they form part of our historical background, and they contain treasures of music and poetry for the appraisal of historians, musicians and critics. Yet what concerns us here far more is their value as materials for art, for musical inspiration. Other countriesGermany and Russia, for instance-have established their musical growth on their national folk songs and their lithurgical music. Why should we not likewise anticipate the growth of original music in Canada? Our Canadian folk songsboth French and Indian-are almost numberless We have already more than nine thousand records of our songs in the National Museum, at Ottawa, three thousand of which are Indian. No country in the world, including Russia, seems to possess a hoard of songs as already available to musicians comparable to ours. Their quality and variety stands comparison with the best. Their rhythms and melodies are endlessly rich and complex. They may still conquer the day, with deserved and permanent recognition, inspire our musicians, poets and dramatists, and thus become the corner-stone of a true national school of music and art. Canadian music may be born some day, for we have musicians, and not a few composers. Skill and inspiration is abundantly their own, as soon as their pursuits are directed into creative channels. Many more students may discover their gifts and vitality, as some already have to our knowledge in the past few years. But they must find an outlet for their compositions and publishers for their works. Our Quebec festivals in the last two years have already produced remarkable results.
We are most sanguine in our anticipation that Canada some day, through the labours of her artists and writers, may acquire culture. For it is not enough to produce and export grain and minerals to be a cultured people. Nor is wealth at all essential. Wealth comes to a people and vanishes without leaving a trace but a pile of ashes and wreckage. This is all part of the rhythm of our modern civilization. But culture lasts for ever when expressed in beautiful works of art; it lives on, at least in the memory of humanity at large. Greece is still known to us today; her glory has not faded. It is not for the size of her population or the export value of her cereals. But because her poets expressed her soul in terms so memorable that it passed on to humanity as a most glorious part of itself. Canada will really begin to exist in the eyes of the world and posterity only when she awakens to the tremendous value of art and thought as a means of bringing her own soul into existence. Then she will become a nation. And then only. Our spiritual dependence or colonialism meanwhile will remain evident to all. The paint and feathers of our predecessors in the land will stick to us. We may hope in the future! Bright signs are already looming up east and west."
Miss Florence Glenn then sang four French Canadian folk songs accompanied at the piano by Miss Gwendolyn Williams.
The songs: Papillon to es volage, tranhlated b Dr. Duncan Campbell Scott, and harmonized by Oscar O'Brien.
Le long de la mer polie, harmonized by Dr. Ernest MacMillan.
Blanche comme la neige (ballad) and Laliptitou (dance), harmonized by Marius Barbeau.
Hon. Chas. McCrea, Minister of Mines, voiced the thanks of the Club for the delightful entertainment, appreciation of which was shown by hearty applause at every stage.