In this video Henri Duparc's song 'Sérénade Florentine' is performed in a new version for the piano, left hand alone, by pianist Ivan Ilić.
Inspired by Process (as Progress)
Ivan Ilić transcribed the song during a residency at the American Academy in Rome in April 2010. He was inspired by Léopold Godowsky's transcriptions of Chopin's études for the left hand alone, which he recently recorded for Paraty Records. The close study of the Chopin/Godowsky engendered a desire to emulate the process of creating new versions of classic texts. The older works become points of departure, and the instrumentalist is free from inhibition to make changes and to refine imperfections of the originals, while avoiding charges of transgression. Ilić is currently working on additional variations, in a similar vein, of love songs by Chausson, Fauré, and Duparc, part of a future album for Paraty Records.
Sérénade Florentine: the Text
In the text of the original song, the narrator implores a star to watch over his beloved as she sleeps, and to posit the idea of growing love in her subconscious as she dreams. The first part of the text, by Jean Lahor (the pseudonym of medical doctor and occasional poet Henri Cazalis), is utterly innocuous on the surface, comparing the shining star to a diamond (0:28 ), and asking for it to bless his lover's eyes (0:35). In the second part of the twelve line poem, there are subtle undertones of the corrupt. The narrator describes to the star the window by which it may gain entry into his beloved's bedroom (1:19), asking it to shine on her until dawn (1:34).
All of this seems harmless enough, except that in the final two lines the narrator alludes to the star's power to influence the woman's thoughts (1:42), to make her dream of a "rising star of love" (1:50). The implication is that the object of the narrator's affection is not completely conquered, so to speak, and that he is enlisting the star's help to manipulate the woman's emotions. The star, Cupid-like, presumably has the power to trigger the desired emotions in the woman. And just as the original Cupid scratches himself with one of the arrows (after arriving, similarly, through the window) and himself falls in love with Psyche, so the star is to spend the night bathing the woman in its light "like a kiss" until dawn. The subtext is suggestive but before anything is made explicit the poem finishes, the music evaporating with it.
Duparc recognizes the importance of this passage, and the music uncharacteristically lurches a bit to give the text its proper weight. Hesitations and pauses are introduced in close succession (1:43); the word "dream" is the first of several moments where the music all but stops. Notwithstanding this brief digression of five out of thirty-two measures, the work is remarkably consistent with respect to its organic development. The opening lilting theme (0:13) is the source of the material for the entire piece, and the singer's first melodic line is a rising repetition of the same theme (0:22). Every major structural point is punctuated by the same motif: it becomes a kind of melodic signpost.
A New Version
In this version of the work, the mellifluous, soothing rocking of Duparc's song is cultivated, and the challenge of playing all three parts with one hand becomes an emollient rather than a hindrance to the liquid grace of the music. The initial motif echoes throughout the work as in the original with its Barcarolle-like rhythm. The accumulation of these repetitions is a gossamer fabric of motivic development reinforced by the uniformity of the timbre of the piano. At just under two minutes, the work is a gem of concision and elegance.