Thursday, January 17, 2013

All That Jazz

Last night's duo recital by Renée Fleming and Susan Graham at Davies Symphony Hall featured two different settings of "Mandoline," the fifteenth poem in Paul Verlaine's collection Fêtes galantes. The first was by Claude Debussy and the second by Reynaldo Hahn. Sitting there on the threshold of modernism, I was struck by the last two lines of the poem, from which the title is taken:
Et la mandoline jase
Parmi les frissons de brise.
Over at The Lied, Art Song, and Choral Texts Archive Web site, these lines are translated as follows:
And the mandolin prattles
Among the shivers from the breeze.
Note that verb "jase." It rhymes with "extase," which makes it a homonym of "jazz." Bearing in mind how much debate continues over the origins of the noun "jazz" (which the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary simple dismisses as "unknown"), could it be that, among some of the refined French-speakers in New Orleans, some of them hear that "new music" with its "African origins" and dismissed it as mere instrumental prattling?

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