Experimentation and reflection

Experimentation – on playing and notating the 'mélodie'


In this section, the first steps of playing Colloque sentimental on English horn are shown, accompanied by several audio fragments and experiments with the notation and score. During a lesson (early November 2021) with voice teacher Gerda van Zelm (playing piano in these fragments), I have played the art song for the first time on cor anglais, trying out articulation, phrasing, note length and an early version of my transcription that I altered along the way. This was a process I especially enjoyed and took as a starting point for researching a primarily vocal approach in this chapter, after having already done plenty of poetical analysis and annotation (see chapter Analysis and annotation). 

1. This audio clip contains the first run through of the very first draft, the first time I was trying out the transcription with piano. Since my playing is still fragmented, I would consider it as a starting point.

2. The audio fragment contains the phrase “Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles”, in which I am playing “molles” as two syllables, including the schwa [ə].

3. Now I am playing “molles” as one syllable, excluding the schwa that is mostly omitted in French speech nowadays, validating the meaning 'weak' or 'soft' (with a round sound, just like the extended o-vowel [ɔ] and the soft [l]), while the repeated notes are being tied: the final choice for the transcription, avoiding unnecessary repetition and using meaning to justify musical choices.

4. During this second run of the first two pages, I was already experiencing more line and flow, more nuance and more direction than in the first take, trying out new slurs that still feel a bit uncomfortable (forgetting for example to play “molles” as one syllable). These new slurs are closer to the vocal line and need a different notation but also timing. Therefore, the fourth and fifth example:


5. This fragment portrays “Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles” with new slurs, more line, but still the same timing as before and a little vertically phrased and played. 

6. The fragment contains “Et l’on entend à peine leurs paroles”, with a new timing (early timing in relation to the piano part) and new notation, providing more structure and flow, the notation helping the execution that now has a more horizontal and legato phrasing over the barlines.

7. An audio clip of “Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé”, beginning with separate eighth notes, making them seem shorter and faster.

8. In this audio fragment, the phrase “Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé” has been played in a slightly different timing with a tenuto and a slower, stretched (more legato) feeling on the eight notes, especially on the first beat. As a result, the melody becomes a bit more spread out, displaying more direction, showing less separateness in notes and more structure overall, without losing the essential piano dynamic in the introduction and the idea of legato phrasing as if the words were spoken.


9. In this audio clip, the phrase “Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé” has been played very vertically, with the triplets sounding straight and separate, all quite equal in dynamics and articulation.

10. This time, the verse “Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé” is already played with more direction in the sustained triplets, which now have gotten more length (tenuto).

11. This fragment plays the phrase “Deux spectres ont évoqué le passé” in the final version I chose to use in my transcription: one with more direction but also more separation. To make the phrase more logically playable for oboists, I delayed both the crescendo and diminuendo (in the score, as shown in the most right image) so that the real accent would still be audible on the [pa] of 'passé', following the melody of Debbussy rather than the melody of the French language, where the [se] of 'passé' would be emphasised in any case, especially since it is placed on the first beat of the next bar.



12. This audio fragment serves a first try of the phrase “Toujours vois-tu mon âme en rêve?---Non.”, mostly experimenting with articulation: for example the Non.” got a strong accent but it was overdone and the Ah! started with a soft entry without tongue nor accent but as a byproduct the airspeed was not enough and therefore the Ah! became too weak, lacking quality and energy. Apparently, this articulation (from a vocal approach) did not work yet, so a few more tries and a new notation (seen in fragment 13) will follow.

13. In this audio clip the verse “Ah!----les beaux jours de bonheur indicible”  now starts with an accent and sfzp. In contrast to fragment 13 the attack is tongued and the airspeed is immediately there, creating a fuller and flexible sound which enables the possibility to play crescendo and diminuendo (to do fast “hair pins”) and already expressing more direction and tempo. However, the musical animation and augmentation could still be improved and be more present.

14. This final fragment contains the phrase “Ah! Les beaux jours de bonheur indicible” being played with more tempo and freedom, now going on to the almost speechlike “C’est possible.” Wondering if a comma would be clear enough for an English horn player to indicate a short, quick breath or expressive pause, I made another version (the second picture, immediately above), following the advice of my English horn teacher Ron Tijhuis, where I added a short sixteenth rest, hoping to get the same result in playing as in singing.


Experimentation – on singing and playing per phrase/verse 


Another experiment that I did was (during) a recording session (mid-February 2022) with professional sound engineer Hans Erblich in a studio in Amare, where I sang and played on cor anglais Colloque sentimental phrase by phrase while trying to match and compare the vocal and instrumental approach as much as possible in terms of colour, vowel sounds, dynamics, expression, intention, character, imagery, phrasing, breathing, tone development, articulation, consonants, musical directions and intentions. Afterwards, I recited the poem as a whole, which I put as an audio file accompanying the Analysis and annotation part. This session provided a lot of new and interesting insights in how to apply a poetical and vocal approach to instrumental play – trying out different versions and focuses – and how to transfer speech and poetry into performance with voice and English horn, sometimes more speechlike and sometimes more singing (experimenting for example with vibrato and non-vibrato play), in the meantime faithful to both verse and mélodie





15. Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé 

deux formes ont tout à l'heure passé.

*15a: voice; 15b: English horn.


16. “Leurs yeux sont morts et leurs lèvres sont molles, et l'on entend à peine leurs paroles.”

*16a: voice; 16b: English horn.

17. “Dans le vieux parc solitaire et glacé 

deux spectres ont évoqué le passé.”

*17a: voice; 17b: English horn.

18. “Te souvient-il de notre extase ancienne?”

*18a: voice; 18b & 18c: English horn.

*18b on English horn: played more singing wise, as one phrase.

*18c on English horn: played more speechlike, as two subphrases with a small pause in between, paying extra attention to consonants (formed and shaped by more and various tonguing on the reed).

19. “Pourquoi voulez-vous donc qu'il m'en souvienne?”

*19a: voice; 19b: English horn.

20. —Ton cœur bat-il toujours à mon seul nom? Toujours vois-tu mon âme en rêve? —Non.

*20a: voice; 20b: English horn; 20c: voice ('Non.') & 20d: English horn ('Non.')


*In the English horn version I played the voiced consonants very weakly, to suggest a similar diction as in the French language itself. 

*To compare I recorded separate versions of the “Non.”, experimenting with colour and the use of vibrato. The second audio with English horn has for example been played without vibrato and the second audio with voice is very resonant and speechlike, a real No!”.

21. —Ah! Les beaux jours de bonheur indicible où nous joignions nos bouches! —C'est possible.

*21a: voice; 21b & 21c: English horn.

*In the second audio with the English horn I tried to play the small response “C'est possible.” as speechlike as possible with a strong accent on the 'si'. 

22. “Qu'il était bleu, le ciel, et grand l'espoir!

—L'espoir a fui, vaincu, vers le ciel noir.

*22a: voice; 22b: English horn.

23. “Tels ils marchaient dans les avoines folles,

et la nuit seule entendit leurs paroles.”

*23a: voice; 23b: English horn.