"À la claire fontaine"

"À la claire fontaine." Sung to several melodies and with different refrains, this song is known by two titles: "À la claire fontaine" and "En revenant des noces." It is said to have been sung as early as 1608 by Champlain's men. The oldest version was collected by J.-B. Christophe Ballard in his book Brunettes et petits airs tendres (Paris 1704). James Huston, in his Répertoire national (Montreal 1848), says that "the tune and the words appear to have been composed by one of the first Canadian explorers," while Marius Barbeau, in Alouette (Montreal 1946), suggests that it probably was composed by a 15th- or 16th-century jongleur. The most familiar melody is that presented by Ernest Gagnon in Chansons populaires du Canada (Quebec City 1865). F.-A.-H. LaRue, in Le Foyer canadien, vol 1 (Quebec City 1863), was the first to compare the text with a version from Brittany. At the unveiling in 1885 of the statue of Sir George-Étienne Cartier (who had sung the refrain in the presence of the Prince of Wales) the prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, used in his speech the famous line from the song: "Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, jamais je ne t'oublierai" (I've loved thee long, I'll ne'er forget thee). In Quebec City in 1862 the Louisiana pianist-composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk improvised variations on the melody during a recital which he describes in his memoirs, Notes of a Pianist (Philadelphia 1881). "A la claire fontaine" was designated as national song by the St-Jean-Baptiste Association in 1878. Several arrangements and harmonizations have been made of the song, among them those by Archer, Robert Farnon, Anthony Petti, Sénart, and Willan. It was recorded by Joseph Saucier (HMV XX008) and Eva Gauthier (Victor 69273), and later included on LPs by Les Cailloux (Cap ST 70012), Bruno Laplante (RCI 393), and many others. A song-book entitled À la claire fontaine was published in Quebec City in 1950.