Songs of Sweet France, via a Czech Diplomat

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Josef Krček (far right) leads the Chairé Příbram ensemble

How old French folk poetry translated by Czech diplomat Hanuš Jelínek ends up in a concert in modern-day Prague.

“The Songs of Sweet France” concert June 19 at The Atrium comes from the name of a famous anthology of French folk poetry from the 15th – 18th centuries, translated and compiled by the Czech translator, poet, and diplomat Hanuš Jelínek. He worked in France in the ’20’s and first published it in 1925.

Since then The Songs of Sweet France have been re-edited many times. They’ve become extremely popular for their modest and fresh language and merry and romantic themes. Many of the poems caught on quickly as popular songs in arrangements for various musicians.

The Příbram-based vocal-instrumental ensemble Chairé (Greek for “joy”) presented the sweet songs, directed by Josef Krček (not to be mistaken for his brother, composer Jaroslav Krček). The group has been in existence for almost 15 years, focusing on anonymous and folk music from the Gothic to classicism. They have established several thematic programmes including Christmas carols from Czech lands and Europe, songs from the Thirty Years War, and songs for the Loutna Česká (The Czech Lute) by Adam Michna z Otradovic.

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Alfred Strejček

The June Chairé programme consisted of the songs sung both solo and in chorus, and poems read by the prominent narrator Alfréd Strejček, who applied both his sonorous voice when reading the serious poems and his sense of humour at the slightly saucy folk pieces.

The members of Chairé sing, conduct, and play all sorts of wind instruments, from clarinet to various flutes and recorders, to animals’ horns; and historical instruments such as chrottas (violin- or cello-like stringed instruments), zithers, portable reed-organs, contemporary percussion instruments and, especially, lyres of both historical and modern shape built specifically for the ensemble by the Anton instrument workshop.

While the first part of the concert was devoted mainly to the romantic songs of French troubadours, in the second part Chairé focused on Czech translations of widely known songs like Sur la Route de Damville, Chanson Du Capitaine, and Trois Jeunes Tambours, singing the first strophe in the original and the rest in Czech, and asking the audience to sing along (which they joyfully did). Beyond exceptional acoustics, the Atrium concert hall also conveys a special ambience corresponding with this type of concert, with the atmosphere of spontaneous music-making in the circle of family and neighbours.

The “French” concert was the closing part of a six-part cycle, “The World and The Music in Metamorphoses of Time” in which Chairé presented texts and music from the time of King Charles IV, historical Easter folk music, Czech folk songs through the ages, historical love stories, and more. Their season is over now, but they expect to be back next season, so you can keep an eye out for them then. Be ready. — oo

– Lucie Rohanová

Photo Credits: Lucie Rohanová

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