Resits: “C” is for Joseph Canteloube: “Baïlèro” from “Songs Of The Auvergne”

In 1926, some forty years before “She Loves You” by The Beatles, Joseph Canteloube begins arranging a series of folk songs from the mountains in central France.

“Baïlèro” opens with a solitary line that sort of bleeds into its accompaniment, like a single drop of water landing on a fine ink drawing, relaxing its edges. The feeling is like sitting in one of those bulbous leather sofas with titanic cushions, the ones that are too big for most living rooms. It’s almost impossible to leave and, as the phrase ends, there’s a “yeah yeah yeah YEAHHHHHHH” moment, the accompanying chord enveloping it like a cloud. (Listen to that Beatles song again).

These dream-like washes are orchestrated and ordered with the precision of a diamond cutter. Whilst the audience wallow in the sheer sensuality of the sound, the composer watches the movement of parts like a hawk. Chords shift from one to the other like trees swaying in the breeze, and above them carefully crafted lines make it all feel so simple. Canteloube believed in the status of folk music as “high art”, he took elegantly formed folk melodies and made them grand, lush, surrounding them in exquisite counterpoint, just enough to savour the move from one chord to another. On this recording, Victoria de Los Angeles has a kind of joyous lightness in her voice, carefree above these harmonic clouds, hiding from us the years of work it took to arrive here (that is high art). The melodies cross and swoop like seabirds, bass notes are somehow revealed to us like huge rocks in choppy seas. This music sounds too natural, it moves too easily, to have been engineered by human hands.

My view is, however, somewhat biased. It was years ago, and I was listening to music with someone. We were exchanging drunkenly our favourite pieces of music. My offering was the aria from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” played by Glenn Gould, and hers was “Baïlèro”. It’s stayed with me ever since, the feeling and the music entwined forever in a moment. How had I not heard this stuff before? As I listen now, the music digs around in my subconscious, reminding me of places and feelings within it I sometimes can’t reach, but that are nevertheless there, held between the notes, among the swooping seabirds and the wine. I’m drunk again.

It didn’t work out, that particular relationship, but that isn’t the point. We musicians are frequently studying things, looking for inherent merits, underlying craft, evidence that something is timelessly good, stands on its own two feet. But music sometimes just drops on you, envelops you, at the time you need it, for reasons beyond your knowing and in ways you can’t describe.

It is, though, fun to try.

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