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Language in French song

21 April 2024, 11:00am - 12:30pm

Language in French song

The traditions of language in French mélodie evolve subtly but radically over the course of songwriting from Debussy and Fauré to Ravel and Poulenc. Exploring the underlying poems alongside composers’ scores, the aim of this study event is to get to the bottom of why pronunciation in mélodie matters. When a poet’s world is refashioned by a composer, enjoyment of the French language plays a key role. Should a singer really roll their Rs or not? How long should a sung E vowel be held for, if at all? These seemingly minor technical questions reveal major implications for the interpretation of French song, and the audience's experience.

The cultural milieu of late nineteenth and early twentieth century France lays the foundations for determining how song is performed – drawing on the writings of major international singers themselves such as Claire Croiza, Pierre Bernac, or François Le Roux. Using a range of examples demonstrated by Clara Orif and Jack Redman, recent Oxford Song Young Artists, this study event will encourage a non-prescriptive approach to singing in French. There is no requirement to know French as full explanations will be provided. (Those with a general working knowledge will be able to explore additional resources, and bring their own examples to test out in a Q&A.)

This study event draws on our IPA project collaboration with the University of Birmingham (, which launched a new resource for singers using the global standard for language pronunciation, the International Phonetic Alphabet. Incorporating options and variants within a learning resource guide also means understanding what a particular choice of sound or phoneme does in a song environment – for the singer, and for the listener.

This event is part of Spring Song 2024. Click here for more information and to purchase a Spring Song Pass.


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