Monday, 4 February 2008

The Gendarmes once more

I have noted before that quite often someone hits Other Men's Flowers in search of the lyrics of a song about two gendarmes which they mistakenly believe was written by Gilbert and Sullivan. I had always assumed that the familiar words were a translation from the French, for the song is from a comic opera by Offenbach.

I was curious to know the original French words but so far I have not been able to find them anywhere. Geneviève de Brabant's two-act French libretto was written by Louis-Adolphe Jaime and Etienne Tréfeu, and the operetta was first staged at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens, Paris in 1859. Thanks to Boosey and Hawkes it was easy to download the censor's copy of the libretto and I ploughed through it all to see if I could identify the words which became "We run them in..." A word search showed me that there were no gendarmes in the operetta (there weren't any in the medieval legend on which it was based, either, but Offenbach had an offhand way with legends—there were no Can-Cans in Orpheus' underworld) so I assume that the translator had simply interpolated a comic song in English that had no relevance to the plot. But I couldn't even locate in the libretto the original words which must have gone with the tune that we and the US Marines know so well.

Wikipedia tells us that Henry Brougham Farnie (1836–1889), a British librettist and adapter of European operettas, wrote the English version, which became very popular and was produced in New York in 1868. Some of his English-language versions of other operettas became record-setting hits on the London stage of the 1870s and 1880s, strongly competing with the Gilbert and Sullivan operas being played at the same time (and he wrote a song called Sweet Dreamer with Arthur Sullivan, so perhaps thinking that Les Deux Gendarmes is by G&S is not so silly).


By now I am bored with these public guardians bold yet wary and so I do not want any comments on all this. But I would still like to know the French words which were sung to that tune, and if anyone can find them and tell me or give me a link to them I will send £20 to the Save the Children Fund.

H. B. Farnie was not a bit boring. Apart from writing or adapting libretti for dozens of operettas, he wrote the first book on golf instruction, The Golfer's Manual: being an historical and descriptive account of the national game of Scotland, under the pseudonym, "A Keen Hand". Here he is, without a huge stovepipe hat but otherwise a typical Victorian, gazing at us sternly as eminent sitters for portrait photos usually did. No vapid smiles for the photographer: these were men of character, making no attempt to look cheerful. Glum, hirsute and even with a hint of anger, they seem to be saying: Look, I've just built The Great Western Railway and started work on the Oxford English Dictionary, and I've grown these terrific whiskers, you expect me to twinkle at you as well?

7 comments:

Ponto said...

Ah! Here are the original French lyrics.

Tony said...

Well, thank you, Ponto, the page you link to gives a lot more information about the wretched song, including another—presumably more accurate—translation.
But I can't see that any of the links on that page go to the original French words.
Where are they?

Ponto said...

Dunno, Tony - it's a pretty old thread on Mudcat Cafe - they've probably gone to the great link farm in the sky. By the way, here's a recording of the Gendarmes' Duet (streaming MP3), performed by John Tomlinson and Andrew Shore.

I wonder if Gilbert knew the song when he wrote "When the Foeman Bares His Steel" in "Pirates of Penzance"?

Tony said...

So I STILL don't know the French lyrics. Why did you tell me I could find them there, Ponto?
The idiots who are convinced that the song is by G&S are probably confusing it with "When a Felon's Not Engaged in his Employment".
Anyway, having written four posts about LDG I am fed up with the damned thing.

Ponto said...

Beg pardon, Tony - I got my links confused. If you can bear the thread a bit longer, I guarantee that the French lyrics are here.

Tony said...

Ah, indeed, there they are. I can't seem to fit these words to the tune, but I'm working on it.
As I couldn't find these words in the libretto I downloaded, Marissa must have got a fuller version, or maybe her French is better than mine, but anyway I am grateful to you both and a cheque is on its way to the Save the Children Fund.

Ponto said...

Many thanks, Tony - cheers!