Three songs
Op.1 a

for tenor, piano
8 mins.

1: la rive
2: le jardin public
3: la mer

Programme notes

These songs were written in late 1966, when I was in my second year at university, and were first performed by Neil Jenkins and myself in a concert in Cambridge during the winter of 1966-67. After this the score lay in a trunk for twenty-eight years. In 1994, when I was living in Ghana, I looked it over and decided that despite its youthful innocence it was worth revising. Nothing essential was altered: I merely tidied up the notation and let in a little extra time in some places, to help the music make its point. The poems are by Olivier Nersac, who was born near Limoges in 1913, fought in the Resistance during the war, and died near Cognac in 1946. They are taken from his 1938 collection Les arpèges de Néron.  The first song, la rive, describes a summer night’s sexual dalliance and jealousy. The second, le jardin public, describes the moment of a first kiss, and is set on a winter afternoon in a Paris park. The third, la mer, is a post-coital bedroom-scene: a young man watches his lover sleep; her half-closed eyelids flutter, and he imagines her dreams as a sea which recedes as she awakes.


© Giles Swayne 2017


la rive


Tes jambes blanches dansaient sous les astres;

mais il est tombé

la grêle méchante de la jalousie

sur le miroir de ta jeunesse,

qui flottait lisse sur l’onde

dans la gloire de juillet.



le jardin public


Des siècles, même des millénaires

Ne durent pas assez pour raconter

Le moment instané mais éternel

où tes lèvres m’ont frôlé,

où mes lèvres t’ont frôlée

à midi au soleil pâle de janvier

au jardin Luxembourg à midi,

à Paris avant la guerre

la guerre qui est un monstre.


la mer


Monstres et miracles,

Flots et marées,

Au large enfin la mer s’est abaissée.

Et nous,

Algues légèrement frôlées par le vent,

Sur la grève du lit bougeons en sommeillant.

Monstres et miracles,

Flots et marées,

Au large enfin la mer s’est abaissée.

Mais sous tes paupières closes

Brille l’onde amère rêvée:

Monstres et miracles,

Flots et marées,

Deux petites ondes pour me tuer.