Friday, 20 July 2007

'La Mer' by Charles Trenet (1946)

This evening I was thinking about some of my favourite music to comment about on this blog and came to 'La Mer' by Charles Trenet, written by him in 1943 (apparently on train toilet paper) and recorded in 1946. I heard it first in 1995 when watching the movie 'Funny Bones' and, like so many people, was incredibly captivated by it. It certainly seemed so nostalgic and stirred up my memories of driving along the coast road between Calais and Boulogne in northern France, especially with my parents.  Trenet wrote it, however, while travelling along the Mediterranean coast, and the word 'etang' a salty pool or lagoon is particularly applicable in that part of France rather than the North.

The Channel coastline the song reminds me of there is very clean and has views across to England. Some of the towns, such as Le Touquet, seem to be trapped in a 'golden' era of holidaying, perhaps of 1937 when French workers first got the chance to have paid holidays (something Trenet celebrated in song). Looking on Wikipedia you can see that since 1971 'La Mer' has featured in one form or another in 15 movies.

Globally, the English version, 'Beyond the Sea', has been more successful (in English-speaking countries anyway) since Bobby Darin's hit in 1960; apparently over 400 singers have recorded it. The two songs have precisely the same tune but tonight I have read that in fact they are very different songs (though both having a maritime theme).  My French has never been good enough to identify the differences (and similarities) between the two versions, but I have now found both sets of lyrics and a translation of the French; the English translation is next to the French. Below I provide both sets for comparison and the vast differences are immediately visible.  Having the French words written down means I can sing along properly next time I am looking out across the sea from Cap Griz Nez.

This blog posting is very much for my benefit.  The simplicity of the lyrics does not do justice to the wistful then triumphant tune they are set to, well worth a listen when going on holiday or when you need cheering up:

La Mer

La mer (The sea)
a des reflets d'argent. (has silver reflections.)
La mer (The sea)
des reflets changeants (has changing reflections)
sous la pluie. (under the rain.)
La mer (The sea)
au ciel d'été confond (to the summer sky confuses)
ses blancs moutons (her white sheep)
avec les anges si purs (with angels so pure.)
La mer, bergère d'azur infinie. (The sea, shepherdess of infinite blue.)
Voyez! (See!)
Près des étangs (next to the pools)
ces grands roseaux mouillés. (those tall wet reeds.)
Voyez! (See!)
ces oiseaux blancs (those white birds)
et ces maisons rouillées. (and those rusty houses.)
La mer (The sea)
les a bercés (has rocked them)
le long des golfes clairs (along the clear gulfs)
et d'une chanson d'amour (and, with a love song,)
la mer (the sea)
a bercé mon cœur pour la vie. (has rocked my heart for life.)
 Keeping the same touching and stirring tune, these are the lyrics of the English-language version, 'Beyond the Sea' which is much less about nature and more about romance:

Beyond the Sea

Somewhere beyond the sea,
somewhere, waiting for me,
my lover stands on golden sands
and watches the ships that go sailing.
Somewhere beyond the sea,
she's there watching for me.
If I could fly like birds on high,
then straight to her arms I'd go sailing.
it's far beyond a star,
it's near beyond the Moon,
I know beyond a doubt
my heart will lead me there soon.
We'll meet beyond the shore,
we'll kiss just as before.
Happy we'll be, beyond the sea,
and never again I'll go sailing!

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