If performances on YouTube are anything to go by, then from Madison in the USA to Manilla via Singapore, in Indonesia and New Zealand, in Armenia, Mexico, and countless other locations – including Blackmore in Essex, UK, where I heard it sung by the Stondon Singers – it seems that the whole world is singing Debussy’s unaccompanied part-song Yver, vous n’estes qu’un villain, one of the Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans. The three songs were published in 1908, but Yver (Hiver: Winter, if you’re wondering, ) was composed in 1898.
Charles d’Orléans was a French Duke captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Most of his poetry was written while living as a prisoner of war in England for twenty-four years in various castles, including the Tower of London, where he is pictured (right) in an illustration from an illuminated manuscript of his poetry.
Translated here, the poem contrasts the green livery of Summer in fields, woods and flowers with the snow, rain and sleet of Winter. The music does the same; pleasant, pastoral overtones as Summer is described, and grim but energetic minor tonality and chromatic mini-squalls depicting Winter. Writing this in Suffolk, UK in the very early hours of December 28, 2012, I have to agree with the words of the song: ‘Winter, you’re nothing but a rogue’. Brrrr…
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un vilain;
Esté est plaisant et gentil
En témoing de may et d’avril
Qui l’accompaignent soir et main.
Esté revet champs, bois et fleurs
De sa livrée de verdure
Et de maintes autres couleurs
Par l’ordonnance de nature.
Mais vous, Yver, trop estes plein
De nège, vent, pluye et grézil.
On vous deust banir en éxil.
Sans point flater je parle plein,
Yver, vous n’estes qu’un vilain.