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Observations placeholder

Desnos, Robert - Chantefleurs et Chantefables



Type of Spiritual Experience


Desnos' poetry has been set to music by a number of composers, including Witold Lutosławski with Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1991).

Flower songs and Story songs includes stories such as 'The eighteen meters ant' and 'the pelican Jonathan'  ... they are all stories for children, well known at one time in France and "on everyone's lips since kindergarten".

It is worth adding that the poems and stories are still being issued and, for example, a new collection illustrated by Zdenka Krejčová, "a full version full of his fantasy and true to the spirit of his work"  has only recently been published.  

As the preface says "One way to honour a man whose voice has been silenced."

A description of the experience

Witold Lutosławski, Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1/2)

Witold Lutosławski (1913-1994): Chantefleurs et Chantefables, per soprano e orchestra, su testi di Robert Desnos (1990) - Olga Pasiecznik, soprano - Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, diretta da Antoni Wit

Witold Lutosławski, Chantefleurs et Chantefables (2/2)


 Lutosławski’s vocal music after 1960 drew on French Surrealists for texts: Trois Poèmes d’Henri Michaux (1963) for 20-part mixed chorus and an orchestra of winds and percussion; Paroles tissées (1965), settings of poems by Jean-François Chabrun for Peter Pears and the Aldeburgh Festival; Les espaces du sommeil (1975), for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and the Berlin Philharmonic on a poem by Robert Desnos ; and Chantefleurs et Chantefables (1990), for soprano and orchestra, also on poems by Desnos.

The Surrealists gave Lutosławski fantastic imagery, of course, but also structural chains and an artistic distance that accommodated his diffidence about the naturalness of singing. He found realistic opera or vocal drama ridiculous. “The only thing that would really fit in my vision of an opera would be something absolutely unreal… that means a fairy tale or Surrealism, absurd, a dream,” he told Dufallo.

Chantefleurs et Chantefables certainly gave him that, with added ingredients of whimsy, humor, and wonder. Desnos (1900-1945) was a protégé of André Breton and wrote prolifically in many genres. Active in the Resistance during World War II, he was arrested by the Nazis and ended up at Theresienstadt (Terezin), where he died of typhoid fever just weeks after the camp was liberated. Before he was arrested, Desnos had sent his publisher 30 “Chantefables à chanter sur n’importe quel air,” which had been written for the children of friends and were published shortly after his death. Another 20 poems were found among his papers and added to the version that was published in 1955 as Chantefables et Chantefleurs, a collection that has remained in print ever since.

Lutosławski’s lightly but wondrously scored settings of nine of Desnos’ poems are alive with vivid pictorial details. Desnos was the Surrealist of dreams and sleep par excellence, and Lutosławski begins with the reverie of “La Belle-de-nuit” (an evening-blooming flower known in English as the four o’clock flower or marvel of Peru) that seems almost a continuation of his earlier Desnos setting, Les espaces du sommeil. “The Grasshopper” leaps sprightly and the little comic scene of “La Véronique” (Veronica, also known in English as speedwell) is again dreamlike, with the kick in its killer last line, “but a bull is just a bull,” left to the contrabassoon.

The source of the experience

Desnos, Robert

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps





Automatic writing