CHARLES TRENET Vol.2
\Je chante" Original 1937-1948 Recordings
The much-f?â?¬ted composer of "La mer" (so far recorded, it isclaimed, over 4,000 times world-wide) and nearly 1,000 other songs, CharlesTrenet is the figurehead of present-day chansonniers. A performing legend on a par with Piaf, Chevalier andSablon, Charles Trenet, the self-styled 'clown' of French cabaret, was also anentertainer whose larger-than-life antics masked a broader polymathy andunflagging professional dynamism. Born in Narbonne, in Aude, South-Western France, on 18 May 1913 healways had, first and foremost, a talent for words. He was also given from an early age to vocal improvising andat kindergarten, when asked by his nanny what he was singing about, is said tohave replied 'Je chante ce que j'invente'.
In 1922, following his parents' divorce, Charles moved withhis brother Antoine to Perpignan, where their father was a practising lawyer,and at fifteen, spurred on by the Catalan poet Bausil, he published his firstverses. Through this genial buteccentric man-of-letters, who also edited and published the sporting chronicleLe Coq Catalan, Trenet rubbed shoulders with such prominent avant-garde figuresas Giono, Giraudoux, Mauriac, Maurois, Saint-Exupery and the painter FonsGodail, a noted cabaret set-designer under whose influence the young Charleswas to exhibit, in 1927, various examples of his own work. In 1928 he joined his mother andstep-father (former silent-screen set-designer Benno Vigny) in Berlin and thereaspired, at least briefly, to become a film-director! His father had hoped he would become an architect, but theartistically-inclined Charles devoted himself instead to writing his firstnovel: Dodo Mani?â?¿res.
In 1930 Trenet moved to Paris where he worked as a graphicartist at Pathe's Joinville film studios and, quickly settling in the capitalfrequented the nightspots of Montmartre and Montparnasse (notably Le Boeuf surle Toit). Billed as 'Le fouchantant' (= singing clown, or fool, ?â?á la Jolson) he soon rose to cabaretstardom, while his associates in intellectual circles included fellow-writersAntonin Artaud, Jean Cocteau and his literary mentor and hero Max Jacob(1876-1944). During 1933 Trenet'ssong-writing and performing duo with his partner, the Swiss-born lyricist-composerJohnny Hess (1915-1983) took off - with a little help from Josephine Baker -and with Hess he went on to co-write many successes, including "Rendez-voussous la pluie" (1935) and the 1936 Grand Prix du Disque-winner "Vous qui passezsans me voir". As 'Charles etJohnny' the pair recorded for Pathe and made regular cabaret appearances untilboth were drafted into French military service, in 1936.
Taking his lead from Mireille and Sablon and otherrevitalisers of the chanson, by mid-decade Trenet was in the vanguard ofcomposer-performers who, inspired by the recently imported transatlantic idiom,had re-channelled Jazz into Swing. His musical gifts were complemented from the outset by an inordinate, ifsometimes unequal, poetical instinct. The author of three novels and copious reams of verse (in style at firstsurrealiste, in emulation of Max Jacob), the songs he penned from thelate-1930s onwards enshrined in some measure the spirit of the age. Like Prevert and few others, heskilfully distilled nostalgia both musically and verbally with amazing economy.
Signed by Columbia, in 1937 Trenet made his first solocommercial recordings: Fleur bleue coupled with Je chante (this last, one ofseveral Trenet collaborations with Paul Misraki (born 1908), the virtual anthemwhich was to become the title of his first film Je chante (1938), which alsofeatured La vie qui va). Writtenduring his military service, Y a d'la joie became his greatest hit to date andled to an invitation to write and appear in two films, of which La routeenchantee (1938 - this included Grand Prix-winning 'Boum!' - see NaxosNostalgia 8.120530: Charles Trenet Vol.1 La mer) was the most successful. In 1943, with more limited success, hereturned to the screen (as co-writer with Jacques Prevert) in Adieu, Leonardand spent the rest of World WarII in maintaining French morale with his songs,most significantly "Douce France" (1943).
In 1945 Trenet moved to the USA where for several years heworked mainly as a writer.
Many of his recordings were issued in the States and althoughnone made the popular charts Top 30 several enjoyed wide circulation andassured Trenet a circle of ardent admirers. By 1952 he was again domiciled in his native France, butmade regular return trips to the USA and Canada. Energetic and dynamic at every public appearance ('Je suisne po?â?¿te, je mourrai athl?â?¿te' was the oft-quoted motto which he joked would oneday be his epitaph), he continued a rigorous performing schedule in Franceuntil his official retirement in 1975. Not yet content to withdraw from the limelight, however, by the end ofthe decade he had embarked on a series of farewell tours in Canada. In 1978 he published his memoirs,jointly with his mother (who died shortly afterwards) and until the late 1980she made further tours of Europe and Canada. In 1993 he appeared in a BBC radio tribute, in London. Awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1989 hewas later variously created a commander of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettresand President of the French Ministry of Culture's Commission for Song.
Never wanting in creative energy, in 1992 and 1995 Trenetpublished new collections of songs and during November 1999 gave three concertsin Paris where, apparently undaunted in spirit if weakened physically by aseries of strokes, he sang at a Charles Aznavour concert in 2000. On 18 February 2001, aged 87 years, hedied in a hospital near Paris and the following day was hailed by FrenchPresident Jacques Chirac as 'a great artist, poet and national institution.'
Peter Dempsey, 2004