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Songs of the Auvergne, Madeleine Grey – Soprano

By October 21, 2019March 18th, 2023No Comments

Madeleine Grey, born Madeleine Nathalie Grumberg, grew up in Villaines-la-Juhel, Mayenne, in France in 1896 into a Jewish family. She studied piano and voice at the Paris Conservatory. Her recorded works are relatively few. We do have her recording of the Chants de l’Auvergne in which she took 11 of the 50 songs written by Canteloube and created what is now considered to be the most authentic recording of these songs ever made. She does not treat these pieces preciously; rather, she sounds as if she is flinging herself into the middle of the peasants’ activities. In other words, she makes them sound like the folk songs that they are. Grey sings like many French sopranos of her time. The sound is pushed forward and most of the nasality has been removed. Her diction in a relatively obscure dialect is excellent. She is a lovely singer.

The dialect of the Auvergne is called Auvernat; some think it is a dialect of Occitan.  Please see this page for more information:

(Chant de Bergers)

Pastré, dè dèlaï l’aïo,
a gaïré dé boun tèn,
dio lou baïlèro lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!
È n’aï pa gaïré, è dio, tu,
baïlèro lèrô.
Lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!

Pastré, lou prat faï flour,
li cal gorda toun troupèl,
dio lou baïlèro lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!
L’erb’ es pu fin’ ol prat d’oïçi,
baïlèro lèrô.
Lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!

(Shepherd Song from the Haute Auvergne)

Shepherd, from across the river
you’re hardly having a good time
say the baïlèro lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!
Eh, I’m not hardly [having a good time], and you [should say]
baïlèro lèrô.
Lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!

Shepherd, the pasture is in flower,
there you ought to tend your flock,
say the baïlèro lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!
The grass is more fine in the pasture here,
baïlèro lèrô.
Lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, lèrô, baïlèrô, lô!

L’aïo dè rotso

L’aïo dè rotso té foro mourir, filhoto!
Nè té cal pas bèïr’ oquèl’, aïo, quèl’ aïo,
Mès cal prèndr’un couot d’oquèl’ aïo dè bi!
S’uno filhoto sè bouol morida, pitchouno,
Li cal pas douna d’oquèl’ aïo dè rotso,
Aïmaro miliour oquèl’ aïo dè bi!

The water from the spring

The water from the spring will kill you, child!
Don’t drink that water, that water,
But instead of water drink some wine!
If a girl marries, my dear,
She shouldn’t have water from the spring,
She’ll [make] love better after a drink of wine!

Ound’ onorèn gorda?

Ound’ onorèn gorda, pitchouno drooùlèto?
Ound’ onorèn gorda lou troupèl pèl moti?
Onorèn obal din lo ribèïrèto,
din lou pradèl l’èrb è fresquèto;
Païssarèn loï fèdoï pèl loï flours,
al louón dèl tsour nous forèn l’omour!

Ogatso louï moutous, pitchouno drooùlèto,
Ogatso louï moutous, lèïs obilhé maï nous!
Ogatso louï fèdoï què païssou l’èrbo,
è lèïs obilhé què païssou loï flours;
naôtres, pitchouno, què soun d’aïma,
pèr viouvr’ obon lou plosé d’omour!

Where’ll we watch over our flock?

Where’ll we watch over our flock, little girl?
Where’ll we watch over our flock in the morning?
We’ll go down by the river,
where the meadow grass is fresh;
We’ll find them grazing among the flowers,
and all day long, we’ll make love!

Look at the sheep, little girl,
Look at the sheep, at the bees and at us!
See them feeding on the grass,
and the bees feeding on the flowers;
but we, little one, who make love,
we live for the pleasures of love!

Obal din lou Limouzi

Obal din lou Limouzi, pitchoun’ obal din lou Limouzi,
Sé l’io dè dzèntoï drolloï, o bé, o bé,
Sé l’io dè dzèntoï drolloï, oïçi, o bé!

Golon, ton bèlo què siascou lèï drolloï dè toun pois,
Lous nostrès fringaïrès èn Limouzi,
Saboun miliour counta flourèt’ o bé!

Obal, din lou Limouzi, pitchouno, sé soun golon,
Oïçi en Aoubèrgno, dïn moun poïs,
Lous omès bous aïmoun è soun fidèls!

Down below in Limousin

Down below in Limousin, little one, down below in Limousin,
There are lots of pretty girls, o yes, o yes,
There are lots of pretty girls, here [too], o yes!

Gallant lad, however beautiful the girls are in your country,
Our young men in Limousin,
Know better how to make love, o yes!

Down below in Limousin, little one, they are galant,
Here in the Auvergne, in my country,
The men love us and are faithful!


Soun, soun, bèni, bèni, bèni ;
Soun, soun, bèni, bèni doun !
Soun, soun, bèni, bèni, bèni ;
Soun, soun, bèni, d’èn docon !

Lou soun, soun bouol pas béni, pècairé !
Lou soun, soun bouol pas béni,
Lou néni s’en bouol pas durmi ! Oh !

Soun, soun, bèni, bèni, bèni ;
Soun, soun, bèni, bèni doun,
Lou soun, soun bouol pas bèni.
L’èfontou bouol pas durmi !

Soun, soun, bèni, bèni, bèni ;
Soun, soun, bèni, o l’èfon ! Oh !

Soun, soun, bèni, bèni, bèni ;
Soun, soun, bèni, bèni doun !

Atso lo qu’es por oqui, pècairé !
Atso lo qu’ès por oqui,
lou néni s’en boulio durmi… Ah !


Sleep, sleep, come, come, come ;
Sleep, sleep, come, come on now !
Sleep, sleep, come, come, come ;
Sleep, sleep, come, from where you dwell* !

The sleep, sleep won’t come, my dear !
The sleep, sleep won’t come,
The babe won’t fall asleep ! Oh !

Sleep, sleep, come, come, come ;
Sleep, sleep, come, come on now,
The sleep, sleep won’t come.
The child won’t fall asleep !

Sleep, sleep, come, come, come ;
Sleep, sleep, come, for the child ! Oh !

Sleep, sleep, come, come, come ;
Sleep, sleep, come, come on now !

It is now here, my dear !
It is now here,
the babe is falling asleep… Ah !

Malurous qu’o uno fenno

Malurous qu’o uno fenno,
Malurous qué n’o cat!
Qué n’o cat n’en bou uno,
Qué n’o uno n’en bou pas!
Tradèra, ladèri dèrèro
ladèra, ladèri dèra.

Urouzo lo fenno
Qu’o l’omé qué li cau!
Urouz’ inquèro maito
O quèlo qué n’o cat!
Tradèra, ladèri dèrèro
ladèra, ladèri dèra.

Unhappy is he who has a wife

Unhappy is he who has a wife,
Unhappy who doesn’t!
He who doesn’t wants one,
He who has one doesn’t!
Tradèra, ladèri dèrèro
ladèra, ladèri dèra.

Fortunate is the wife
Whose man is the one she wants!
More fortunate is she
Who doesn’t have one!
Tradèra, ladèri dèrèro
ladèra, ladèri dèra.

Madeleine Grey

Madeleine Grey (née Madeleine Nathalie Grumberg) was born in Villaines-la-Juhel, Mayenne, in France in 1896 into a Jewish family. Her musical studies took her to the Paris Conservatoire to study both the piano, with Alfred Cortot, and singing, with Amédée-Louis Hettich. Her exceptional promise as a singer was soon recognized, and she gave her début concert with the Pasdeloup Orchestra in Paris in 1919.

Grey’s first concert was attended by Gabriel Fauré and Maurice Ravel, both of whom went on to work closely with her in performances of their works. Fauré accompanied her in the first performance of his song cycle Mirages in December 1919. For Ravel she gave the first performances of the orchestral version of his Deux mélodies hébraïques in 1920, and the Chansons madécasses in 1926. Her other associations with Ravel included a concert tour with him in Spain in 1928, participation in the Ciboure festival for the composer in 1930, and singing at a memorial concert after his death. Joseph Canteloube dedicated to her a set of his Chants d’Auvergne , and she gave the first performance of them in 1926, achieving considerable popular success. Her repertoire also included works by Ottorino Respighi, Heitor Villa-Lobos, Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger.

Madeleine Grey travelled widely, especially in Italy and the United States, appearing at many festivals. She sometimes experienced the rising influence of anti-semitism, as in 1933 when her engagement at a concert in Florence was abruptly cancelled and she was replaced by another singer. When the war with Germany broke out in 1939 she was abroad, and did not return to France until 1947. She lived in Paris again from 1952, and died there in 1979.

Ravel provided an early account of Madeleine Grey’s voice in a letter recommending her to the conductor Ernest Ansermet: “She is one of the most remarkable interpreters: an attractive voice, fairly powerful, and very clear. And, very notably, perfect diction. Thanks to her, people have heard Shéhérazade as something other than a symphonic poem.” This view has been endorsed by a modern critic on the basis of her recordings: “Her voice is strong and clear, her diction excellent, her interpretations were individual and intelligent.” [2]

Madeleine Grey’s legacy of recordings is small but significant. In 1930, she made the first recording of a selection of the Chants d’Auvergne by Canteloube (chosen from series I-III and filling 7 sides of 78 rpm records, 1 one of which was not issued). In 1932, she also made recordings of Ravel’s Chansons madécasses, the Deux mélodies hébraïques and the Chanson hébraïque (6 sides of 78 rpm) which were supervised by the composer and which therefore give a unique insight into his expectations of performance. All of these recordings have been re-issued on CD (Pearl GEMM 0013).

Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957)
Chants d’Auvergne

Most people today know Joseph Canteloube’s name only for his Chants d’Auvergne, the traditional folk-songs he gathered over many years on his travels around his native region, and which he went on to harmonize and orchestrate. In fact he composed many other works, in a range of genres, from symphonic and chamber pieces to full-scale operas, of which the most significant are Le Mas and Vercingétorix, with their premières at the Paris Opéra in 1929 and 1933 respectively. Nevertheless his reputation among music-lovers remains that of a regionalist composer, given his various well-known anthologies of songs from around France, notably Le Chansonnier alsacien (1952), Chansons champenoises, Chansons du veillois (1929), Chants du Languedoc (1948), Chants du Pays Basque (1949), Noëls d’Europe (1954), Anthologie des chants populaires franco-canadiens (1953), Les Chants des terroirs français, and so on. He also wrote books and articles about the folk-music that inspired him, for example Les Chants des provinces françaises, published in 1947. The Chants d’Auvergne, a series of five collections published between 1923 and 1954, form the heart of this original creative process.

Canteloube was born in Malaret, in the south of the Auvergne region. “I lived in the depths of the countryside, in a place where the peasants still loved to sing. I began to travel around the farms and villages to listen to their songs, asking old men and women, the herdsmen and shepherds in the pastures, the laborers and harvesters in the fields to sing to me.” This then was the start of the composer’s painstaking research into the rich seam of Auvergnat folk-music. Like Bartók in Central Europe, he gathered, albeit perhaps less systematically and scientifically than his Hungarian contemporary, songs and melodies, beginning to add harmonies to them and often using them as the basis for short works for voice with piano or orchestra.

In 1906 he left the Auvergne for Paris, where he studied piano with a former pupil of Chopin, before enrolling at the renowned Schola Cantorum, by then headed by Vincent d’Indy. While at the Schola Canteloube confirmed his taste for “the power and purity of those musical and poetic sources that are the earth and its non-intellectualized projections, folk-songs and dances, rustic legends and epic tales”. D’Indy was a great proponent of this view, known for his attachment to the traditional roots of music and the medieval sources of the repertoire. “I have never sought to undertake some sort of simplistic musicology”, wrote Canteloube, “I just want my work to be meaningful, to be that of a musician who wants to celebrate and share with others the music he loves.” One of Canteloube’s fellow students in Paris was the composer Déodat de Séverac, about whom he wrote a monograph in 1951 and whose aesthetics he also shared: “He advocates a return to one’s own land and people, to the light, air, sun and colors of home, not out of any kind of vain pretension, but out of a sense of absolute necessity.”

Naturally enough, perhaps, Canteloube’s love of his regional musical inheritance developed into nationalism, which in turn led him to an association with the Vichy regime during World War II. A key figure in Pétain’s cultural policies, he wrote in the right-wing periodical L’Action française, “The songs of the earth need their backdrop, their setting, their accompaniment of nature and fresh air. Only the immaterial art of music, with its moving, impalpable harmonies, timbres and rhythms, can evoke this atmosphere. I would go so far as to say that it has the right to do so, for many peasant songs can be qualified as the purest form of art, in terms of their sentiments and expression, if not their form.”

Canteloube’s artistic beliefs might clearly be labelled reactionary in comparison with those of some of his contemporaries. He also wrote, “At a time of over-developed intellectualism, we are witnessing a proliferation of the strangest, most outlandish and contradictory doctrines; the spread of the most preposterous and ridiculous trends… Today audiences are presented with “things” that are called music but that have none of the characteristics which music dictionaries would agree are required in order for music to be defined as such. These “things” are preceded by explanatory circulars, written in quasi-scientific jargon, which most of the time is incomprehensible and unbelievably pretentious.”