Shéhérazade

This was the second work that Ravel composed under the title Shéhérazade; the first was an overture composed in 1898, which had not been a great success, and the re-use of the title perhaps suggests that he no longer attached any significance to the earlier work. In 1903, he selected three texts by the poet (and fellow Apache) Tristan Klingsor to set for voice and orchestra.

The three poems are Asie, La flûte enchantée and L'indifférent. The first performance was given in 1904 by the mezzo-soprano Jane Hatto, and the work has usually been performed by a woman's voice. However it has occasionally been sung by a baritone, which does give added point to the lines of L'indifférent about the young stranger's feminine gait and eyes soft as those of a girl:

    Tes yeux sont doux comme ceux d'une fille,
    Jeune étranger
    [...]
                   je te vois t'éloigner
    Me faisant un dernier geste avec grâce
    Et la hanche légèrement ployée
    Par ta démarche féminine et lasse...

It seems to have been Ravel's original intention to present the songs in a different order from the now conventional one, so that L'indifférent featured as the middle song, and Asie, the longest and most substantial one, came last. In the age of the programmable CD player, it can be worthwhile to re-arrange the tracks into this alternative order. (See also Nichols [2011] p.56.)

The full French text of the poems can be found on the Lied and Art Song Texts Page.

Tristan Klingsor later recalled Ravel's approach to the setting of his poems: "Pour être sûr de ne pas se tromper sur les intentions de l'auteur, il me faisait lire le poème. ....Ainsi, quand je répétais trois fois le mot initial Asie, je le faisais en baissant chaque fois d'un degré, comme il est normal de le faire si l'on veut éviter toute affectation. Vous savez que Ravel, au contraire, a fait chanter ce mot sur un dessin ascendant. De toute évidence, il a eu raison. Cette montée appelle de plus en plus l'attention sur le 'pays merveilleux des contes de nourrice'. Et le trait ainsi lancé en l'air, c'est justement celui qui servira de départ au prélude. Logique et raffinement." (In Colette [1939] p.132-133).

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