Discovering Philippe Jaroussky’s haunting performance of a Reynaldo Hahn melody

April 13, 2014
Photo:Philippe Jaroussky performs

I live this music every day. So, it’s a wondrous delight to come across a work like Reynaldo Hahn’s "À Chloris" ("To Chloris").

I first heard this short French mélodie a few years ago, but fell in love with it again when recently thumbing through our music library (aka, CPR Classical’s candy store). It’s only three minutes long, but packs a punch from the first haunting notes that set the stage for a story of newly discovered love:

“If it be true, Chloris, that thou lovst me … I do not believe that even kings could know such happiness as mine...”

Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky sings with a piercing clarity that sends you into a different realm. And Hahn’s melody leaves you wondering why his music isn’t better known.

Hahn’s biography is fascinating. Originally from Caracas, Venezuela, and the youngest of 12, Hahn migrated to Paris with his family when he was four years old.

He entered the Paris Conservatory at age 10, where he studied under Camille Saint-Saens and Jules Massenet. Maurice Ravel was his classmate.

Hahn set his first famous work at age 18 to Victor Hugo’s poem, "Si mes vers avaient des ailes" ("If my songs had wings"). It’s as memorable as the songs of Schubert or Richard Rogers. (I particularly like this version sung by Barbara Hendricks.) 

Hahn was lovers with French novelist Marcel Proust and friends with actress Sarah Bernhardt. He served in the French army in World War I, composing a cycle of songs set to children’s poems between the gunfire while serving on the front lines. Hahn spent World War II in hiding, the occupying Nazis having banned his music because of his Jewish ancestry.

He was appointed director of the Paris Opera at the end of the war in 1945, and died two years later after composing many operas, concert and chamber works, ballets and, of course, songs. His reputation was largely snuffed out during the war, but a handful of works keep his name alive -- most especially his songs, worth exploring and possibly falling in love with.

Monika Vischer hosts Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., including the Midday Getaway weekdays at noon on CPR Classical.

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