In 1903, Maurice Ravel decides to convert 3 poems from his friend Tristan Klingsor to music. “Asia”, “The Magic Flute” and “The Indifferent” constitute the cycle called “Shéhérazade”. The composer said he had chosen these texts because he considered them “the least likely to be set to music”. We know he loved stylistic and technical challenges (just listen to the very famous “Bolero”).
With the “Four Last Songs” of Richard Strauss and the Elgar’s “Pictures of the sea”, Shéhérazade is one of the finest cycles of voice and orchestra. Everything is perfect, structure, respect for the text, elk, sensitivity. And as always, Ravel’s orchestration is sumptuous, with a richness and subtlety unheard of.
Created in 1904 by the mezzo-soprano Jane Hatto, Shéhérazade is usually sung by a female voice. If the Regine Crespin’s recording is an unsurpassed reference, there are also some interpretations by male voices, which make a particular color, especially in The Indifferent.
“Your eyes are soft like a girl
And the thin curve
Of your beautiful face down shaded
Is even more attractive line.
Your lip sings
On my doorstep
An unknown language and charming
As a music false;
Come in! and my wine comfort you …
But no, you go
And from my door I see you away
Making me a last gesture gracefully
And hip slightly bent
By your feminine approach and weary. “
I’ve always wondered if Ravel did not want, by selecting this ambiguous text, to leave a discreet clue about his amorous sensibility. A bit like the poem as Lawrence of Arabia has placed an epigraph of his “Seven pillars of wisdom”. But this is of course a simple hypothesis.
Here it’s sung by Felicity Lott, with beautiful pictures: