LA VIE EN ROSE – the vulnerable romantic

This song was composed by Edith Piaf in the final years of World War 2 and is far more than a hit.  It is honoured by some as the unofficial national anthem of the French.  And it is a single line in this love chanson that sets the tone in the lyric –the beloved is compared with an unretouched portrait, an affectionate ambiguity.

                     “the smile lost on his lips”

The title in relation to the lyric suggests a vulnerable romanticism – life in a rosy hue, or even, life in pink.  “Moonlight and roses” comes to mind as well as the ease with which life fractures it.

                            The orphan sparrow

La Vie en Rose cannot of course be seen apart from Edith Piaf.  As a child she was called la môme, the orphan sparrow, probably as a result of crippling poverty and the unpredictability of bohemian life once her talent had been discovered.  It is this pathos that we hear in Piaf’s voice, something which still touches people.  And she had endeared herself to the French public when accusations of collaboration with the German occupiers, calling her a collabo, were launched against her.  A close friend in the French Resistance set things straight.

After an internationally successful life, the life style and encroaching health problems took their toll and she died at an early age in Grasse, in the south of France, in 1963.  She had still recorded her hit Non, je ne regrette rien in 1960, another chanson that recalls her vulnerable romanticism.  She was laid to rest in Paris.  There were 100,000 people at her funeral.  And, if you listen, you’ll hear her voice in every piano accordion on the Champs Elysées.

                        “… the beat of my heart …”


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

April, 2017



Wikipedia: biography and “La Vie en Rose »

You Tube, for the song



Roses on music sheet –

La môme  –

Edith Piaf  –






As a post-WW2 baby boomer, I was familiar with songs that grew out of the war.  In France, the war is no longer merely stories for me, fragments from books, movies.  Now I’ve stood where Hitler stood, saw what he saw.  In Nice I’ve visited the streets where the heaviest fighting took place at its liberation.  The war, what is left from it, is closer and its agony, for me, is also distilled in four songs.

“…some sunny day …”

We’ll meet again composed by Ross Parker (music) and Hughie Charles (lyrics) and sung by Vera Lynn.

” …. it’s a long long way …”

It’s a long way to Tipperary was composed by Jack Judge in 1912.

” … Underneath the lamplight…”

Lili Marlene was inspired by an earlier poem, composed by Norbert Schulze in 1939 and sung by Marlene Dietrich.

                                   Herm Niel

Erika was composed by Herm Niel in 1939.  It is interesting that each of these songs is a love song.  Is it that men fighting a war are more motivated to hate when they think of their loved one?

In We’ll meet again, the hope is expressed in sadness, a longing for “some sunny day” from under the dark clouds of war.   Tipperary is closer to the battlefront.  I hear boots marching between the lines, with the recurring longing in the words “it’s a long, long way …”  Lili Marlene was popular on both sides of the enemy lines.  I remember 15 years after the war when our family was listening to a long-playing record for the first time, the track came up unexpectedly and my father who seldom, if ever, spoke of his experiences in the war, suddenly left the room, deeply emotional.  With Erika (“Auf der Heide blűht eine kleines Blűmelein”) I have different feelings.  The song was belted out as the German troops marched under the Arc de Triomphe and down the Champs d’Elysées, jubilant conquerors.  Later it was lovingly translated into Afrikaans and sung by the tenor Gé Korsten in a movie in the 1960s.  As a German marching song, it struck a particular note with people whose parents regretted that the Nazis lost the war.  I feel a cold breeze when I hear it.

Music makes war easier

I can’t hear any of these songs without sensing words from the poet when he speaks of “the still sad music of humanity”.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017



Quotation from William Wordsworth :  “Lines written above Tintern Abbey”

 Wikipedia, for biographical details.  


Vera Lynn –

Jack Judge – History of Oldbury

Marlene Dietrich  –

Herm Niel – You Tube

Marschlieder –






Out of the mists …

This is an inward journey.  It is about two places and a voice.  I spent 20 minutes at Stonehenge and then fled from the sub-zero temperature to the car.  I have not been to Easter Island and I have spent many hours listening to the voice of Lisa Gerrard.

They hunch over me …

I could speak about the speculations concerning Stonehenge, that it was a burial place, probably an observatory and is the biggest of the Neolithic monuments, at least 5000 years old.  But it is what the place does to me.  I stand in an archway, these gargantuan blocks made by bloodied hands, hauled and pushed with raw shoulders.  I feel the tonnage, the weight of millennia.  They hunch over me, these monoliths, faceless and impenetrable.  The Henge is a broken circle, but somehow still calls into the unfathomable night.

They stare beyond galaxies …

The Statues of Easter Island have riveted me since my childhood.  There too, theories proliferate.   Those giant visages of granite with their long ears, solemn, taciturn … the eyes are nights without stars.  Some have fallen under the weight of who they are.  Others lie back and stare into eternity. Do they carry some terrifying knowledge?

Some listen. Some have fallen.

I found a voice that sings these places.  It is the voice of Lisa Gerrard, born in Melbourne of Irish parents, in 1961.

“The earth is a mirror    pool”

Her vocal range and ability are beyond belief.  She can tower over Asian plains; she whispers a prayer.  She sings in idioglossia, a language she made up as a child, she says, to speak to God.  The sources of her other-worldly melodies are researched with passion.  Each track has a nature of its own, wrought with depth of feeling and creative musicality.  In that music the ancient Celts breathe.  There is Turkey and India.  It can be dark-clad chanting from dank crypts and paths in night forests.  It moves across a prehistoric landscape, monumental as monoliths.

“A sliver of sun; a leaden sky”

The confluence of these three things, for me, is something that strains beyond the curve of the earth.


©  Will van der Walt, 2017

Les Semboules, Antibes

March, 2017



“What was the purpose of Stonehenge?” –

“Why was Stonehenge built?” – Ask History (internet)

Lisa Gerrard:  Mirror Pool; Duality and early Dead Can Dance collaborations.


Easter Island –;

Stonehenge –;

Lisa Gerrard:;  2016 festival Melbourne





ANTHEMS and the burning in the nose

The new dispensation in South Africa in 1994 made for a combo-national anthem, an unusual and thoughtful arrangement.  It has been satisfactory, as far as I know, for most people.

C. J. Langenhoven

           C. J. Langenhoven

“Die Stem van Suid-Afrika”/ “The Voice” was written by C.J. Langenhoven (lyric) and M. de Villiers (music) between 1919 and 1921.  The lyric is a poetic description of the vast beauty of the country, becoming, in a subsequent stanza a hymn of dedication.  The pain of the Anglo-Boer war, less than 20 years before, was fresh in their minds.

Enoch Sontonga

               Enoch Sontonga

“Nkosi Sikelel’ Afrika” was written by Enoch Sontonga in 1897 and is a hymnal prayer embracing the entire continent, asking for blessing and for the “war and suffering” of African people to cease.  It came after a bloody 19th-century and 500 years of slavery.

Rouget de Lisle

                        Rouget de Lisle

“La Marseillaise” was written by Rouget de Lisle during the time of the French Revolution in 1792.  It is a marching song for soldiers.   The lyric is bracing  ̶   “The bloody flag is hoisted”.  Then it goes darker.  “They (the enemy) … cut the throats of our sons and comrades … May their impure blood irrigate our fields.”  And this is against a nameless “tyranny”.

South African flag

                                 South African flag

If the lyrical tones of these three anthems diverge, the music stirs me, yes, burns in my nose.  I heard and sang “The Voice” once a week for many years in the school where I taught and it is part of the seams in my brain.  “Nkosi” I first heard as a schoolboy when the principal bid the working staff to sing it for the school, an experience that I have never forgotten.  The three-to-four-part harmony remains with me.

Impression of the French flag

                      Impression of the French flag

These days the “Marseillaise” is sung more frequently, spontaneously, in public.  It was moving to see the entire French parliament rising to their feet to sing it, something which had not, I believe, happened since World War 1.  It was January, 2015, after the terror attacks in Paris.

A peculiar fate it is to be touched by three national anthems.  Perhaps I should get done and sing “La Internationale”, except that the melody was pilfered in the 1920s in South Africa and the lyrics, in Afrikaans, praise, in a heart-felt way a place of birth, a beautiful farm  ̶  rather different from the original lyrics.  (See “O Boereplaas”)


© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2016






Enoch Sontongo –

C.J. Langenhoven –

Rouget de Lisle –

South African flag  –  getty

French flag –


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