Debussy, the children, and Le Pain Quotidien

I wanted to find a Christmas-themed piece by Debussy for this, the final post of 2015. Something cosy, with a feel-good factor. Perhaps involving children. So I googled ‘Debussy, Noël‘ and immediately I found what I was looking for.

Well, almost.  Actually, it was quite a shock.

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Yes, it is for Christmas. And it’s for children. But it is for homeless children, with both the text and the music written by Debussy in December 1915, a hundred years ago this month; a plea on behalf of French children made homeless during World War I, whose houses have been destroyed, who have lost their mother, their school and their teacher, their bed and their shoes – and who ask not for toys, but for ‘le pain quotidien‘  – our daily bread.

Noël des enfants qui n’ont plus de maisons was published in 1916, written for solo s-l225voice, and subsequently arranged for two parts, as in the YouTube performance given by the French boys above. Marked doux et triste, the vocal melody glides and chatters above an impatient accompaniment which rattles along beneath. It is Debussy’s final song, a Christmas carol with a difference. A sobering note on which to conclude this year’s series of pieces by composers from The Lunch that Never Happened – Brahms, Debussy, Beethoven and Schubert.

Many thanks to you all for reading and for keeping me company in 2015. See you next year….

 

Nous n’avons plus de maisons !
Les ennemis ont tout pris, tout pris, tout pris,
Jusqu’à notre petit lit!
Ils ont brûlé l’école et notre maître aussi,
Ils ont brûlé l’église et monsieur Jésus-Christ,
Et le vieux pauvre qui n’a pas pu s’en aller!
Nous n’avons plus de maisons!
Les ennemis ont tout pris, tout pris, tout pris,
Jusqu’à notre petit lit!

Bien sûr! Papa est à la guerre,
Pauvre maman est morte!
Avant d’avoir vu tout ça.
Qu’est-ce que l’on va faire ?
Noël, petit Noël, n’allez pas chez eux, n’allez plus jamais chez eux, punissez-les !
Vengez les enfants de France !
Les petits Belges, les petits Serbes, et les petits Polonais aussi !
Si nous en oublions, pardonnez-nous.
Noël ! Noël ! surtout, pas de joujoux,
Tâchez de nous redonner le pain quotidien.

Nous n’avons plus de maisons!
Les ennemis ont tout pris, tout pris, tout pris.

Jusqu’à notre petit lit!
Ils ont brûlé l’école et notre maître aussi,
Ils ont brûlé l’église et monsieur Jésus-Christ,
Et le vieux pauvre qui n’a pas pu s’en aller !

Noël ! Écoutez-nous, nous n’avons plus de petits sabots !
Mais donnez la victoire aux enfants de France.

*********

 

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4 Responses to Debussy, the children, and Le Pain Quotidien

  1. Steven D. Stellmman says:

    Dear Ms. Stevenson,
    I just came across this wonderful blog from December, 2015. about Debussy’s Christmas song for homeless children. It so happens that The Dessoff Choirs performed an arrangement for women’s voices and piano in New York City on December 11, 2010, at St. James’ Church on Madison Avenue, in a program titled “French Choral Music from the Renaissance to the 20th Century.” Other works on the program included Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le temps de Noël, another Debussy work Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans, and the perennial favorite Duruflé’s Requiem.
    If you (or any of your followers) are interested, I would be happy to send a link to an m4a recording.

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