TRENET, Charles: Le Coeur de Paris

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'Le Coeur de Paris' Original 1948-1954 Recordings

Now immortalised by \La mer" (a nostalgicevocation of coastal scenes near his nativeNarbonne) Charles Trenet was a creativechansonnier with 'a painter's eye for detail.' Aperforming legend on a par with Piaf, Chevalierand Sablon,Trenet influenced severalgenerations, while the self-appointed 'clown' ofFrench cabaret was also a showman whoselarger-than-life antics masked a broaderspectrum of artistic activity and an unflaggingprofessional dynamism. Born in Narbonne, inAude, South-Western France, on 18 May 1913 healways had, first and foremost, a talent for wordsbut from an early age was inclined to vocalisingand musical improvisation. Reputedly, at kindergarten,when quizzed by his nanny over hissinging, he replied 'Je chante ce que j'invente'.

In 1922 Charles' parents divorced and withhis brother Antoine he moved to Perpignan,where their father was a practising lawyer. Atfifteen, encouraged by the Catalan poet Bausil,he published his first verses and through thisgenial but eccentric man-of-letters, who alsoedited and published the noted sportingchronicle Le Coq Catalan,Trenet met suchavant-garde figures as Giono, Giraudoux,Mauriac, Maurois, Saint-Exupery and the painterFons Godail, a noted cabaret set-designer underwhose influence the young Charles was toexhibit, in 1927, various examples of his ownwork. In 1928 he joined his mother andstepfather (former silent-screen set-designerBenno Vigny) in Berlin and there aspired, if onlybriefly, to become a film-director! His fatherwanted him to be an architect, but the artisticCharles devoted himself instead to writing hisfirst novel: Dodo Mani?â?¿res.

In 1930 Trenet moved to Paris and workedas a graphic artist at Pathe's Joinville filmstudios. Quickly settling down to life in thecapital, he frequented the nightspots ofMontmartre and Montparnasse (notably LeBoeuf sur le Toit) and there, billed 'Le fouchantant' (= singing clown, or fool, ?â?á la Jolson)soon found cabaret stardom, while hisassociates in intellectual circles included fellowwritersAntonin Artaud, Jean Cocteau and hisliterary mentor and hero Max Jacob (1876-1944). During 1933 Trenet's songwriting andperforming duo with his partner, the Swiss-bornlyricist-composer Johnny Hess (alias JeanLaurent, 1915-1983) took off - with assistancefrom Josephine Baker - and they subsequentlyco-wrote many successes, including 'Rendezvoussous la pluie' (1935) and the 1936 GrandPrix du Disque-winner 'Vous qui passez sans mevoir'. As 'Charles et Johnny' they recorded forPathe and worked the cabaret circuit until bothwere drafted into French military service, in1936.

Taking his lead from Mireille and Sablon andother exponents of the new-style chanson, bymid-decade Trenet was in the forefront ofcomposer-performers who, inspired by therecently imported transatlantic idiom, had rechannelledJazz into Swing. His musical giftswere complemented from the outset by aprolific, if sometimes unequal, poetical instinct.

The author of three novels and copious reamsof verse (in style at first surrealiste, in imitationof Max Jacob), the songs he penned from thelate-1930s onwards captured the spirit of theage. Like Prevert and few others, he skilfullydistilled nostalgia both musically and verballywith an amazing economy.

Signed by Columbia, in 1937 Trenet madehis first solo commercial recordings several incollaboration with Paul Misraki (born 1908),including the title-song of his first film Je chante(1938), soon to become an early signature tune.

Written during his military service,'Y'a de lajoie'was his greatest hit to date and brought aninvitation to write and appear in two films, ofwhich La route enchantee (1938; this includedGrand Prix-winning 'Boum!' - see NaxosNostalgia 8.120530, Charles Trenet: La mer) wasthe most successful. In 1943, with more limitedsuccess, he returned to the screen (as co-writerwith Jacques Prevert) in Adieu, Leonard andspent the rest of World War II maintainingFrench morale with his songs, most significantly'Douce France' (1943).

In 1945 Trenet moved to the USA where forseveral years he worked mainly as a writer.

Where credited as lyricist, he penned the wordsto virtually all of his own songs; the tunesthemselves may not all be his own creations,although he often claimed that they were.

Many of his recordings were issued in the Statesand although none made the popular charts Top30 several enjoyed wide circulation, assuringTrenet a circle of ardent admirers. 1948brought his biggest hit of all,"La mer". Apersonification of the sea hauntingly recordedin laid-back style by Trenet, it is now a key songof the 1940s, although the tune may be bypianist-composer Albert Lasry,Trenet's regulararranger and conductor. The song has sincebeen recorded by a wide range of otherperformers (4,000 times, according to oneestimate) and has long featured in thevocabulary of nostalgia, most recently throughthe medium of TV advertising.

By the early 1950s Trenet was againdomiciled in his native France, but made regularreturn trips to the USA and Canada. Hiscompositions continued to be wide-ranging inmood (frequently reflecting themes and eventsin his own past life) and his recordings includeda remake of his 1930s hit Vous qui passezsans me voir (a collaboration with Hess andPaul Misraki, 1908-98) and numbers from his1953 film Bouquet de joie. Energetic anddynamic at every public appearance ('Je suis nepo?â?¿te, je mourrai athl?â?¿te'was the oft-quotedmotto which he jokingly styled for an epitaph),he continued a rigorous performing schedule inFrance until his official retirement in 1975. Asyet unwilling to retire, however, by the late1970s Trenet had embarked on a series of farewelltours in Canada. In 1978, in collaborationwith his mother (who died shortly afterwards)he published a memoir and until the late 1980scontinued to make occasional tours of Europeand Canada. In 1993, in London, he appearedin a BBC radio tribute. Awarded the Legiond'Honneur in 1989, he was later variouslycreated a commander of the Ordre des Arts etdes Lettres and President of the FrenchMinistry of Culture's Commission for Song.

Never wanting in creative energy, in 1992and 1995 Trenet published new collections ofsongs and during November 1999 gave threeconcerts in Paris. The following year hereturned, apparently undaunted in spirit ifphysically challenged by a series of strokes, tosing at a concert staged by Charles Aznavour.

He died in a hospital on the outskirts of Parison 18 February 2001, aged 87 years, and thefollowing day was hailed by French PresidentJacques Chirac as: 'a great artist, poet andnational institution.'Peter Dempsey, 2005"
Disc: 1
Bouquet de joie
1 Formidable
2 France Dimanche
3 Berceuse
4 Grand'maman, c'est New York
5 Grandmama, It's New York
6 Dans les rues de Quebec
7 Voyage au Canada
8 Mes jeunes annees
9 Quand descend le soir
10 L'ame des poetes
11 Ou vas-tu chaque nuit?
12 Dans les pharmacies
13 Madame la pluie
14 Le Coeur de Paris
15 Vous qui passez sans me voir
16 Je marche au bord de l'eau
17 Marie-Therese
18 En avril a Paris
19 En ce temps-la
20 Bouquet de joie
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