Le Lay de Plour

Yesterday, I completed the score to “Le Lay de Plour,” setting the poem by that name by Guillaume Machaut for contralto, flute, violin, cello and piano. There is a modern day story behind this piece, starting with a chance hearing on YouTube of contralto Laure SLABIAK singing a Bach aria, reaching out to her via Facebook, and then via a string of emails, deciding on the scoring and the texts. I wanted to write something for her in French, and my initial thought was to set poems by Verlaine, adding to the single poem of his, Chanson d’automne, that I had previously set for soprano and violin, included on my latest CD.

But then, after having ordered several volumes of Verlaine’s poetry, I couldn’t find any poems of his that I liked as much or better than Chanson d’automne. The body of his work, to my mind, reflected the outpourings of an anguished, angry and unsettled man. Nothing I wanted to set to music. After searching through numerous poems by French poets over the last century and coming up flat, I turned to the past, and started, for the first time, to examine the poems of Guillaume Machaut. Always a favorite composer, I had never hitherto, thought about his work as a poet or paid the least attention to his words in the music I listened to. Having found the text and his own melodies for “Le Lay de Plour” on-line, I at last found poems that sang to me. Reading on-line, I learned that the lay is a highly complicated poetic form, composed of twelve stanzas of varying length and meter, with no pattern of rhyme repeated from one stanza to the next. That complexity made it all the more interesting as the basis for a musical work, as the variation in lines and rhyme schemes opened up all kinds of possibilities for musical expression, meters, tempos and combinations of instruments.

The score and parts went out yesterday, crossing the ocean in an instant. Now, to hear it…