For many, he’s just another famous representative of the Belle Époque, but there are few people that really know much about him, let alone about his music. He went down in history as the lover of Marcel Proust, but Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947) was much more than that. And here is a 4 CD set of his melodies that allows you to rediscover the man and his music afresh
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Hahn was the son of a German-Jewish father and a Venezuelan mother of Spanish-Basque origin. Apart from being a pianist and composer, Hahn was a highly esteemed conductor; know among other things for his Mozart interpretations. He was also a critic, writing for the newspaper Le Figaro; he wrote books on music, and in 1945 he was appointed director of the Paris Opéra.
When he arrived in Paris – on his own – he was but four years old. He was sent there because his father was threatened by the politics of president Antonio Guzmán Blanco. At the age of 11 Hahn began to study music at the Paris conservatory and became a student of Jules Massenet.
Hahn’s career florished mostly in Paris and in aristocratic circles, he was a welcomed guest in the world of salons, most notably that of the eccentric Princess Mathilde (Napoleon’s niece),accompanying himself on the piano as he sang arias by Jacques Offenbach. At the age of eight, Hahn composed his first songs. And of course he sang it, too. As he did his many other songs that followed over the years.
Marcel Proust famously wrote about Hahn and his singing: “His head a little thrown back, his mouth mournful and slightly indignant, from where flowed, rhythmically, the most beautiful, the saddest and warmest voice that never existed.”
Jean Cocteau added: “He sang with a cigarette positioned in the corner of his mouth, delivering his delightful voice from the other part, the eyes painting towards the sky.”
Hahn composed more than 100 songs that are rarely performed today. Why?
Don’t ask me, because I find them wonderful. All of them. And that is something everyone can now experience thanks to Palazzetto Bru Zane who have issued them in a box set, many of them in world premiere recordings.
Just listen to the song cycle Chansons grises based on poems by Paul Verlaine. What a discovery it is to hear these for the first time!
In the beginning I was worried that the songs might become a little monotonous with just one singer all the way through. But I was surprised and easily convinced of the opposite. Greek baritone Tassis Christoyannis has precicely the right timbre to do justice to these songs: light, elegant, and very sensual in a way that made me think of Gerard Souzay, again and again.
Christoyannis’ interpretation is polished and perfect, and for every song he finds a different shading, a new tone. And my God – it is beautiful. For me, this is the CD of the year.
I recently read somewhere that we may expect more Hahn on disc soon. His operas L’Ile du Reve and La Carmelite are on the to-do list of Palazzetto Bru Zane, the be recorded live. All I can say about that is: please don’t forget to include his operettas Ciboulette (1923) or Brummell (1931) about the infamous British dandy Beau Brummel (1778-1840).
Not to mention Hahn’s other musical comedies, such as Mozart (1925) or O mon bel inconnu (1933), Une Revue (1925) and Malvina (1935). Some of them are available in historic French recordings, but a fresh and new interpretation would be very welcome.
English translation: Kevin Clarke