Les chants de Thémis (Songs of Themis)

Cantate en 3 parts (1. Revolt 2. Satire 3. Hope)
3 equal voices choir, and 5 percussions
Texs by Molinet, Montaigne, Pascal, La Fontaine, Chénier, Pouchkine, Hugo, Vigny, Baudelaire, Prévert, Blanchet.
Duration : 40’
Commissioned by Radio-France.
First performance on april 4th and 5th 2001 in Radio-France
Maîtrise of Radio-France, Choirs of Académie de Paris, Percussions-claviers de Lyon, all conducted by Toni Ramon.
Editions Jobert

These choirs, exclusively made up of children’s voices echo the fragile beauty of innocence. This had to be opposed with a world of telluric forces: the diversity and intensity of the percussion instruments – an actual orchestra –  made for the perfect marriage to complete the  choral ensemble.

In order to create this work which had to be an illustration of the ideas of freedom and justice, my first concern was to find some powerful texts, as diverse as possible, and in particular from different epochs for, throughout the different centuries, an unexpected light is sometimes brought to these universal themes. The selection made, I could then choose and create an almost theatrical layout, 3 acts could we say: “Revolt” a shout of distress when faced with cruelty and tyranny; “Satire”, a moment of relaxation where mockery with its singular style can strip bare the untolerable nature of injustice; “Hope” because I can’t imagine for one second that darkness should have the last word.

The chosen texts are numerous, sometimes very long, but the diverse musical interpretation (spoken, whispered voices, crowd noise, choral fanfares, counterpoint superposing several stanzas, etc.) serves to avoid any impression of a fastidious literary catalogue. From the 15th to the 20th centuries, Molinet, Montaigne, Pascal, La Fontaine, Chénier (a martyr from the French revolution), Pouchkine, Hugo, Vigny, Baudelaire, Prévert, Blanchet succeed each other.

Intelligible or not, these texts cannot be ignored and leave a definite mark: either directly, when they are the driving force of the musical idea and where certain words or certain phrases stand out clearly; or indirectly where the listener can only make out a complex, even chaotic  subject matter, but where each of the young singers gives voice to a text which is charged  with human meaning.

Freedom and justice are subjects which cannot leave us indifferent. Today we are overwhelmed with information and are distant witnesses to all the horrors in the world, and the painful impression that we can do nothing, leaves us with a feeling of guilt. Yet it is hope that gives the most strength; hope that is galvanized through music and poetry’s powerful expression. Both help us to recognise the greatness which is in each of us; both passionately show us that despite everything the world remain beautiful.

Patrick Burgan