Beau Soir

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"Beau Soir" (French for "Beautiful Evening") is a French art song written by Claude Debussy. It is a setting of a poem by Paul Bourget. Debussy was 15 or 16 when he wrote this song (ca. 1877/8),[1] and his music was marked by the aesthetics of the period.

Lyrics[edit]

Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses
Et qu'un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d'être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le coeur troublé.

Un conseil de goûter le charme d'être au monde
Ce pendant qu'on est jeune et que le soir est beau,
Car nous nous en allons, comme s'en va cette onde:
Elle à la mer, nous au tombeau.

Translation of Lyrics[edit]

Where the rivulets are rosy in the setting sun,
And a mild tremor runs over the wheat fields,
An exhortation to be happy seems to emanate from things
And rises towards the troubled heart.

An exhortation to enjoy the charm of being alive
While one is young and the evening is beautiful,
For we are going on, as this stream goes on:
The stream to the sea, we to the grave.

Alternative translation, more literal and colloquial:

When the rivers are rosy in the setting sun,
And a warm shiver runs over the wheat fields,
Advice to be happy seems to rise up from things
And climb toward the troubled heart.

Advice to taste the charm of being in the world
While one is young and the evening is beautiful,
For we are going away, as this stream goes away:
The stream to the sea, we to the grave.

Third translation option, which honors the intended meaning of the original language but translates the poetic content into the English language more seamlessly than the options above do:

When streams turn pink in the setting sun,
And a slight shudder rushes through the wheat fields,
A plea for happiness seems to rise out of all things
And it climbs up towards the troubled heart.
A plea to relish the charm of life
While there is youth and the evening is fair,
For we pass away, as the wave passes:
The wave to the sea, we to the grave.

And a Fourth and final translation, which is most commonly used by choirs:

When 'neath the setting sun,
Glows a river in evening,
And the warm summer wind blows out across the fields,
And it calls us and tells us to be happy
And it climbs up towards the troubled heart.
A plea to relish the charm of life
While there is youth and the evening is fair,
For we shall go away; like water that is flowing: Into the sea, we to the tomb.


Claude Debussy is well known for his impressionistic approach to music, although he hated the term “impressionism” and preferred being associated with the creation of new sounds and colors through the exploration of fluid rhythms, and whole tone and pentatonic scales. Throughout his life, Debussy composed a variety of works including music for piano, orchestra, and chamber ensembles; in addition, Debussy wrote many French art songs. Beau Soir was one of the pieces written in Debussy’s youth, said to have been written in his time studying at the Paris Conservatory. Beau Soir, which translates to “beautiful evening,” is set to a text based on a poem by Paul Bourget, the poem paints the picture of a beautiful evening where the rivers are turned rose-colored by the sunset and the wheat fields are moved by a warm breeze. Debussy uses a gently flowing triplet rhythm in the accompaniment, which contrasts the duplets that drive the light melody, the piano and voice partner to create the sensation of peace that one might feel in the evening in nature, fitting the post-Romantic style. As any evening fades, however, so does the mood of the piece, and the song modulates from E major to F-sharp minor, the piece reaches its climax when the melody reaches a high F-sharp, paired with the word “beau”. The combination of the text and melody powerfully depicts the beauty of the sun, once again showing how Debussy used music for color.


Recordings[edit]

"Beau Soir" has been recorded by many singers, including Barbra Streisand (on her album Classical Barbra), Maggie Teyte, Jean Stilwell, Véronique Gens, Giuseppe De Luca, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Renée Fleming, Jessye Norman (on the album An Evening With Jessye Norman), and Diana Damrau.

It has also been successfully arranged for various instruments, including for violin and piano by Jascha Heifetz[2](recorded by Midori Gotō), and cello and piano by Julian Lloyd Webber.[3] There also exists a 1979 arrangement for mixed chorus with piano by Richard Gard.

Use in other media[edit]

The piece is used as a backdrop near the very end of the 1927 film The Jazz Singer, which is generally credited as the very first "talkie" motion picture, it is also featured in the 1950 film All About Eve.

An arrangement of the song for orchestra and voice by Larry Mayfield was the theme song of religious DJ Bill Pearce's Nightsounds broadcast from 1970 to 2007.

An arrangement of the song for solo piano by Koji Attwood has been recorded by pianists Michael Lewin and Ernest So.

The piece is used as performance with Gustav Klimt-like decor in the episode "The Master Blackmailer", from the TV-series The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, with Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes (1991).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bernac, Pierre (1970). The Interpretation of French Song. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 156. ISBN 0393008789. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]

External links[edit]