25 November 2015


I decided to work out the beautiful song If You Love Me, Really Love Me, composed for Edith Piaf by the great Marguerite Monnot. I opted for the Key of C, and used repeat signs.
So what are its secrets? To find out, I've had a go at playing it. You may care to listen. Please excuse my limited ability: I'm not a pianist. To hear my attempt, click on this link:
First, note how the melody soars up six times through arpeggios (of E7th and D minor7th: the latter adds poignancy, of course). What goes up must come down; and the corresponding triple-dip descents are amazing too. Note in particular how effective the E7th and F minor harmonies are at the point indicated below. (If you want proof of this, just try them on your keyboard.)
Marguerite Monnot could have used a conventional C7th where she has the E7th; but the E7th is so much more impassioned in this context.

The Middle Eight switches into the relative minor key, conveying the excitement, concern and commitment of passionate love. We progress from A minor eventually to D minor, to G7th and so naturally back to the triumphant home key of C. But note how - during this journey - astonishing harmonic techniques are used. See especially the F sharp diminished chord and the F7th (one beat each) followed by the E7th. Marguerite Monnot could so easily have left the first two beats on A minor, as a lesser composer would have done. But the F sharp diminished chord and the F7th are so effective. Again, try the phrase on your keyboard!

Most popular songs of the time were based on a 32-bar structure involving four groups of 8 bars:

A2 - virtually repeating A1
B [known as the Middle Eight]
A3 - virtually repeating A1

Even in this respect, Margerite Monnot springs a surprise. Although she gives the illusion of following this structure, in fact A2 and A3 of her song both contain NINE bars - not eight.

The trick is so well worked that you scarcely notice it, but the effect is remarkable: the extra bar gives her room to end those two phrases (and the final phrase of the song in particular) on extra-high emotion.

There are some fine performances of this song on YouTube, if you should wish to hear it in its full glory.

Born in 1903 at Decize – a town on the River Loire - Marguerite Monnot was home-educated by her musician parents. She was a musical child prodigy and developed into a gold-standard musician – a fine performing pianist, well grounded in theory. She studied in Paris and was taught by several classical luminaries. One of these was Nadia Boulanger (who probably trained her in harmony; Nadia was one of the most influential music teachers of the Twentieth Century). Another was the composer and teacher Vincent D’Indy; and there was Alfred Cortot, the great pianist who specialised in the works of Schumann and Chopin.

Her lifetime shyness did not help Marguerite as a performer but it did not hinder her work as a composer, when in the 1920s she started attempting (with success) to write popular songs.

At the age of 33, Marguerite was introduced to France’s best-loved singer, the great Edith Piaf, and they worked together for many years. They became friends and collaborated on many songs that became part of Piaf’s stage act. It was Piaf, of course, who made Hymne à l’Amour and Milord famous.

Marguerite also wrote film music. And in 1955 she had a huge success when she wrote the score for the musical Irma La Douce, which I remember seeing with great pleasure in Peter Brook’s production at the Lyric Theatre, London, in 1958.

Although Marguerite wrote hundreds of songs, English readers are likely to know her best for Milord and The Poor People of Paris (La goualante du pauvre Jean) and If You Love Me, Really Love Me (Hymne à l’Amour).

Sadly, in 1961 Marguerite Monnot died in Paris at the age of 58, following a ruptured appendix.

Marguerite Monnot’s career reminds me that the period between 1940 and 1980 was a Golden Age for popular music and its centre was France. Songs had words that were important and worth listening to, with a narrative and drama; and those words were clearly articulated by the great singers such as Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, Juliette Greco and Georges Brassens. The singer was accompanied by a real, accomplished pianist or band or orchestra, playing from an arrangement that would include adventurous harmonies, changes in rhythm and key; and even accelerandos, rallentandos and pauses. (You find all these features in Marguerite Monnot's work.) There was no need for electronic amplification.

How different from the synthetic, mechanical dreary disco music of today!
Marguerite Monnot