On his third solo album, following the success of “Éternel été”, the founder of the electro duo Nôze is exploring, through piano and synths, the encounter between poetry and song. In this new work he has set to music verses by William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Pablo Neruda and on three songs, those of the poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, a pioneer of romanticism who notably influenced Verlaine and Baudelaire.
But what does this Oh !, giving its title to Ezéchiel Pailhès’ third solo album, stand for? Is it an Oh ! of surprise, admiration or pain? “It is rather the Oh ! found in romantic poetry” says the French composer and singer with his deep and sweet voice. “An interjection that refers to a form of lament”, even though it can convey other emotions such as complaint, nostalgia, a sad delight or a longed-for solace.
In Tout va bien, his previous album released in 2017, Ezéchiel Pailhès had set two Shakespeare sonnets to music. One of them, “Eternel été” has become a great success, thanks to its lines tinged with spleen and bliss. “Poetry, and its musicality, have always been part of my universe. For this new album, I therefore wanted to explore further the adaptation of poems into songs. “Bien certain” is, once again, taken from William Shakespeare. “Tu te rappelleras” comes from Pablo Neruda’s collection La centaine d’amour. “Oh ! Pourquoi te cacher ?” is from Victor Hugo. As for “Sans l’oublier”, “La sincère” and “J’avais froid”, they were all written by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore, a 19th century French poetess, still fairly unknown”.
With Oh !, Ezéchiel Pailhès has become more of a singer than ever before, through seven songs and four instrumental compositions, with intimate and warm modulations, carried by hypnotic piano melodies, instruments with unusual timbre and a subtle electronic production that recalls his past productions with his former duo Nôze.
“I wanted to expand my music further into songs” Ezéchiel adds, “to work more with my voice as a solo instrument and to limit the overlapping of voices and choirs found in my previous records”. Produced in his Montreuil home studio, Oh ! is nevertheless imbued with an emotion found in his previous albums, close to ‘saudade’ or a slight melancholy, sometimes enhanced by chosen texts that evoke the disappointment of love, the longing, the distance between two people, or even men’s weakness. “These poems evoke themes that may seem far from the concerns of our times. Yet, they are timeless and eternal; they manage to convey emotions that can often be difficult to say or write.”
Among the texts chosen for this new album, the verses of the poet Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859) are on a par with William Shakespeare’s sonnets or Pablo Neruda’s poem found on the same record:
« Sans l’oublier, on peut fuir ce qu’on aime.
On peut bannir son nom de ses discours,
Et, de l’absence implorant le secours,
Se dérober à ce maître suprême,
Sans l’oublier ! »
« Sans oublier une voix triste et tendre,
Oh ! que de jours j’ai vus naître et finir !
Je la redoute encore dans l’avenir :
C’est une voix que l’on cesse d’entendre,
Sans l’oublier ! » “
Without forgetting, we can run away from what we love.
Banish their name from our conversations,
And, begging the absence for consolation,
Escape the grip of this supreme master,
Without forgetting! »
“Without forgetting a sad and gentle voice,
Oh, how many days have I seen rise and fall!
And still I fear from the future:
A voice that can no longer be heard,
Without forgetting! »
Although less known today than her male counterparts, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore marked her times and the Romantic movement through the quality of her texts and her formal inventions, which Balzac admired, and whose influence seems to have been decisive on Verlaine and Baudelaire.
“Marceline Desbordes-Valmore’s poetry is highly musical,” says Ezéchiel with admiration. “Her artistry with rhythm and repetition sounds very good and takes on a new dimension when set to music. She even meant for some of her texts to become songs”
From classical to pop music, the adaptation of poetry is part of a long tradition in France. “Great classical composers of the early 20th century such as Fauré, Poulenc or Duparc, who influenced me, had already tackled poets. On the album, songs like “La sincère” or “Tu te rappelleras” are probably closer to the way Serge Gainsbourg or Serge Reggiani approached poetry than Léo Ferré who is usually referred to in this regard”.
Lastly, “Constellation”, “Wolf 359”, “Almost there” and “Cakewalk”, the four instrumental tracks on the album on which a sung or whispered voice sometimes appears, explore an inspiration close to previous albums, mixing piano, prepared piano (various objects are placed between the strings to transform its timbre), synthesiser, clavietta (a kind of melodica), not to forget a few collages and digital processes. Ballads with a cinematographic mood that respond in an abstract and dreamlike way to the texts of great poets…