Lucie Daulènne – The Tale of the Disney Songstress

Born in 1931, Lucie Daullène seems to have made only two classical recordings, of which one was ‘Chants de la France’ with Joseph Canteloube, recorded in 1949–50.

At this stage, Canteloube – or, to give him his full name, Marie-Joseph Canteloube de Malaret – was famous in France but largely unheard-of elsewhere. This changed a little with Netania Davrath’s 1960s recordings, but only in the 1970s would most non-French music-lovers become familiar with his Chants d’Auvergne. An English music-lover, Denys Potts, wrote in 2004 his memories of how Chants de la France came to be made by Louise Hanson Dyer’s L’Oiseau-Lyre label (not yet affiliated with Decca), which released classical LPs before any other French company:

[Lucie Daullène] was only 15 [sic] when she recorded the songs. I know this because at the time (late 1949 and early 1950) I was living in Paris and used to listen to Canteloube rehearsing with her in the Paris apartment of J.B. Hanson, the managing director of Oiseau-Lyre, whom I had known in England. Some friends of Canteloube had discovered her in an Auvergne village, and she was always chaperoned by her mother, a silent figure (she probably only spoke Auvergnat) dressed entirely in black. Canteloube, whom I got to know well, despite some 40 years of difference in age, and with whom I corresponded up to his death in 1957, thought she was the ideal singer for his songs. ‘That’s how French folk songs should be sung,’ he once wrote to me, ‘much better than La Grey’ (Madeleine Grey, who made the first recordings, with orchestra, around 1930). I would have attended the recording in the Studio des Champs-Elysées, but the removal men couldn’t get Canteloube’s piano up the stairs (there is now a lift!) and I had another appointment to keep. He had to use the studio piano … [L’Oiseau-Lyre] had begun experimenting with LPs by then – I remember going to their demonstration for the Paris record trade around Easter 1950 at which the representative of La Boîte à Musique [magazine] commented to me ‘This [LP technology] will never come to anything!’.

It must be said that Daullène’s timbre takes some getting used to. Gramophone reviewer Philip Hope-Wallace, discussing the LP in the November 1954 issue, called it ‘one of those astonishingly shallow light French voices. When I first put the record on, it sounded so like the tiny, tinny little voice of Disney’s Minnie Mouse that I thought I must have put on a 33rpm at 78 by mistake.’ But even Hope-Wallace admitted to eventually having found the result ‘pleasing’, and after sustained exposure most hearers will observe that what at first seemed like demon-doll edginess accords with Canteloube’s method, just as Canteloube said it did.

From around 1953 Daullène (whose name Canteloube had sometimes rendered in his manuscripts as ‘d’Aullène’) preferred the spelling ‘Dolène’. She married another singer, Jean Constantin, and they remained married until his death in 1997; a third singer, Olivier Constantin, is their son. Hope-Wallace’s unkind reference to Disney had a prophetic character, because several Disney movies when dubbed into French – notably Snow White – made use of Dolène’s voice. As reported by, among others, the Wall Street Journal (December 1996) and AlloDoublage (February 2012), the makers of these movies apparently omitted to give Dolène adequate remuneration for her trouble, and in 1996 she obtained a gratifying niche in the history of intellectual property law by successfully suing Disney for unpaid royalties.

None of the songs – all strophic – in Chants de la France turned up in Chants d’Auvergne. The nearest correlation between the former and the latter is Som-Som, which shares words with ‘Brezariola’ from the third Chants d’Auvergne set. Yet the character of Canteloube’s reworkings in both collections is similar. His unselfconscious harmonic lushness earned him a reprimand from Catherine Mackerras – Sir Charles’s mother – who, in the July 1959 number of the Sydney-based periodical Canon, complained: ‘Listening to these arrangements you become aware of the incongruity of attempting to be effectively earthy in white tie and tails’. But in 1959 the similar harmonic opulence of Britten’s and Grainger’s folksong transcriptions remained largely unknown, and almost 60 years later Canteloube can be recognised as doing something similar to those men: that is, showing the hitherto unsuspected emotional potential of these tunes such as mere melody-hugging literalism could never have demonstrated.

Throughout this anthology, the septuagenarian Canteloube tosses off scales, arpeggios and glissandi with a panache enviable by many players one-third of his age. The peasant culture which Canteloube celebrated – la France profonde, as his countrymen called it – had already begun to fade from view when he collected these songs (from Brittany, Savoy, Picardy, Corsica and Languedoc as well as the Auvergne) and today it has almost entirely disappeared from even France’s remotest regions, where affluence, the internal combustion engine, and latterly the internet have brought their usual ‘blessings’. All the more cause, then, to be grateful for Canteloube’s pioneering work. As James Harding, chronicler of French music, noted: ‘Although his own compositions may not have retained the place he would have liked them to hold, Canteloube at least was successful in preserving a valuable part of the national heritage and deserves our thanks accordingly.’