News – EN – Singer Hélène Martin is dead, and Daho knows what he owes her


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The singer Hélène Martin in Les Mardis de la chanson at the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier, in Paris, in 1954

Hélène Martin was one of the great names in literary and committed song of the 1960s and 1970s, tireless voice of poets And in particular of Jean Genet, of which she had set to music “Le Condamné à mort” from the beginning of the 1960s. She died Sunday February 21 She was 92

Many people discovered his name in 2010, when Étienne Daho and Jeanne Moreau had recorded – said and sung – Le Condamné à mort by Jean Genet… Daho, Moreau, Genet: the trio, of course, had what to arouse the interest of the media and the general public Hélène Martin took the opportunity to remind a few dazed or uneducated journalists that it was she who composed the score, and not Daho (who never said the opposite, but the media are sometimes lazy) She had set Le Condamné to music years earlier, with the agreement of Genet himself, and had been the first to dare to bring to the stage this long erotic-gay poem dating from 1942, and still subversive. In other words, even, it was much more, when it had seized it, than eleven years ago …

But it’s not the fear of shocking – on the contrary? – who would have dissuaded Hélène Martin from doing what she wanted, she who broke not only the codes of decorum by interpreting Jean Genet, but also those of the genre, since, as a woman, she slipped here in the skin of a man expressing his desire for one of his fellows When she created Le Condamné à mort in public, Hélène Martin had been singing for a while

Coherence of a path on the fringes of the big circuits, and of perfect artistic rectitude: Genet, already, appeared in the repertoire of the beginner, this daughter of a history-geo teacher fond of poetry, who roamed the cabarets post-war left bank; there then crossed other figures of this literary song which laid the foundations of the genre, Francesca Solleville, Cora Vaucaire, Catherine Sauvage or Anne Sylvestre Unlike the latter, Hélène Martin was not yet writing her own lyrics (at least she was not singing them) And unlike many young performers of the time, or their eldest Edith Piaf, she did not run around the lyricists of songs

She had such a love for poets (whom she often frequented closely, such as Aragon, Giono, Neruda) that she devoted most of her career to them from the start Even though she wrote it herself afterwards, it didn’t change anything It is above all the words of others that she liked to endorse, like a Juliette Gréco… Except that she, with or without her guitar, sang without any other theatricality than that of the inflections of her timbre , serious, powerful, vibrant And that she, therefore, composed her melodies

Thus, like Ferré or Ferrat, Hélène Martin will have become an ardent voice of poets We can also be surprised that posterity has not reserved a better place for him in the pantheon of song … His intransigence in the face of the “profession” and the creation of his own production house will certainly not have earned him only supports Neither did her feminist commitments – especially when her album Liberté femme was released in 1972, in a France that still prohibited abortion.

Finally, an undeniable humility in serving those whom she admired above all, the men of letters, did not help her put herself forward Even if it happened that she got annoyed at not being more recognized, Hélène Martin was a true passer, in the best sense of the word, and not only by singing: in this decade of 70 of all possibilities, she had imagined a series of television programs on poets and writers, called Plain-Chant In the Middle Ages, plainsong was a musical form used in a religious setting In the voice of Hélène Martin, who has just died at 92, there was indeed something sacred

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Hélène Martin, Louis Aragon, Le Condamné à mort, Jean Giono

News – EN – Singer Hélène Martin is dead, and Daho knows what he owes her