Lamenting the lilacs

As I look out into the backyard I feel a bit sad to see the withered blossoms of the lilac tree.  I enjoyed them so much over the past few weeks: their beautiful pale mauve colour; the rich, pungent fragrance; the dancing, plump bumble bees gathering to drink their nectar; the provocative dance of the delicate trumpeting blossoms in the breeze.  In spite of the odd bit of dog poo in the grass and the underwear hanging on the clothesline, it was downright poetic in my back yard!  Such are the moments which inspire art to be created.  Perhaps a similar range of emotions was experienced by French composer Ernest Chausson when he wrote his Mélodie titled, Le temps des lilas.

The text is a poem by Maurice Bouchor, a close friend of the composer, which expresses the appreciation for spring and the sadness for the end of spring.  The time of the lilacs and the time of the roses will not return, he says.  The wind has changed to bring sadder skies, and our love has died with the withered blossoms, he says.  Even your kisses will not awaken the dying season, nor our dying love, he says.  Big sigh for the epic joy and profound sadness that spring can bring! All jesting aside, the real emotion and vulnerability evoked through the French Chansons and Mélodies, and through the poems which inspired them are such a wonderful musical gift.

Composer Ernest Chausson sets this text to a sad and captivating melody, includes a huge swell of sound and emotion in the middle section, then returns to the simple memory of the lilacs now gone.   I can imagine Chausson, amidst his network of artists including Debussy, Monet, Mallarmé and others, just allowing the melody and harmonies to unfold.  I have performed this a few times, but I find the middle section difficult to execute, and I haven’t yet surrendered my calculated approach to allow it to just flow.  Here Gérard Souzay gives a brilliant performance that I hope you will enjoy.

And so this is what happens when I am in the presence of lilacs, and then when I grieve the loss of them at the end of their season.   Maybe tomorrow it will just be about hanging out the laundry? On verra…

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