À Chloris (1916): Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
In Greek mythology, the name Chloris (, from khloros, meaning “greenish-yellow”, “pale green”, “pale”, “pallid”, or “fresh”) appears in a variety of contexts. Some clearly refer to different characters; other stories may refer to the same Chloris, but disagree on details. Chloris was a Nymph associated with spring, flowers and new growth, believed to have dwelt in the Elysian Fields. Roman authors equated her with the goddess Flora, suggesting that the initial sound of her name may have got altered by Latin speakers (a popular etymology). Myths had it that she was abducted by (and later married) Zephyrus, the god of the west wind (which, as Ovid himself points out, was a parallel to the story of his brother Boreas and Oreithyia). She was also thought to have been responsible for the transformations of Adonis, Attis, Crocus, Hyacinthus and Narcissus into flowers.
From One Poet to Another
French Baroque poet Théophile de Viau (1590-1626), being both Protestant and libertine, was sentenced to being burned alive by the Jesuits, but managed to have his sentence reduced to banishment. A non-conformist to the last, he nonetheless shared the Baroque pre-occupation with ancient Greece and Rome. A simple classicist poem recalls the writing of Ovid. The restraint of de Viau’s writing, coupled with rich fantasies of idealised ancient civilisations appealed to romantic composers of the 19th century.
French composers in particular had a colouristic sense that would flesh out the Classical myths. Looking far East – Ravel’s Shéhérazade (1903) – or far back – Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé (1912) – reflects the French’s gaze outside of themselves. How Reynaldo Hahn decided to set this particular Grecian fantasy while World War 1 was still raging, appears out of sync. Yet, this seems to be exactly what Hahn was about as a person and a composer: aloof, cool, and somehow unaffected.
The opening is startling. A Baroque walking bass instantly transporting us to an imagined ancient place; a sculpture frozen in marble; another L’heure exquisse which Hahn was so brilliant at calling into existence with one delicate stroke of the brush.
A Basso Continuo treads gently, not into an Ancient Greek Garden, but rather into a painting of one, while a courtly Recorder player recalls Pan lazily lying in the sun somewhere, while Chloris does little other than walk around stroking the foliage and inspiring great love-poems. Hahn recreates not the world of Ancient Greece, but repaints the Baroque in French colours by a deliberate evocation of the great spirit of the Baroque, Johann Sebastian Bach. And not any Bach, but particularly the Bach of supernatural stillness and perfection that is almost beyond description.
The voice does not take part in this orchestral dialogue between the walking Bass and the heavenly melody, but floats between the two, an unhurried ghostly observer, less the love-struck narrator and more the poet, taking time to imagine the scene, in between slow, deliberate dips of the quill in the ink-well.
Far from being a simple pastiche as many writers assert, including even Graham Johnson, I find this a beautiful homage to Bach, a homage to idealised love, an escape from the horrific World War 1 Europe, an escape away from a conservative, racist, Catholic Paris of the closeted homosexual composer unable to express his love like this, to an imagined place, where all might have been – and might yet again be – simply perfect. The music pulls us to another place. The tread of the bass line again providing a soothing repetition that is comforting in a quasi-minimalist fashion. I had the experience in reverse, when performing this song at the Casa Labia Cultural Center in Cape Town, under a statue of three marble ladies. The way the sun caught the stone, the light in the venue, the beautifully delicate and responsive piano, as well as performing the song with an added element of aloofness by replacing the human voice with that of the cello, it seemed not that we were pulled into antiquity. Antiquity had unexpectedly stepped in to our time, and stopped it. And our time was all the better for the intrusion.
Download Free PDF Sheet Music of Reynaldo Hahn’s “À Chloris” in E Major
Download Free PDF Sheet Music of Reynaldo Hahn’s “À Chloris” in D Major
À Chloris – Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626) , Original title unknown – Text in French
S’il est vrai, Chloris, que tu m’aimes,
Mais j’entends, que tu m’aimes bien,
Je ne crois point que les rois mêmes
Aient un bonheur pareil au mien.
Que la mort serait importune
De venir changer ma fortune
A la félicité des cieux!
Tout ce qu’on dit de l’ambroisie
Ne touche point ma fantaisie
Au prix des grâces de tes yeux
À Chloris – Théophile de Viau (1590 – 1626) , Original title unknown – French Text translated into English by Albert Combrink
If it is true, Chloris, that you love me,
and I hear that you love me well,
I think not even kings
Have such happiness as mine.
Death would be unwelcome if it came to exchange my fortune
for the bliss of heaven!
Everything said of ambrosia
Does not touch my fantasy as
The price of the graces of your eyes.