Jacques Brel (April 8, 1929 - October 9, 1978) was a Belgian author-composer with such a strong power of expression in his lyrics that many consider him a poet as well. He also had some minor activity as an actor and director. He was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, a small city north of Brussels.
In the early 1950s he went to Paris, writing music and singing in the city cabarets and music-halls where on stage he expressed his songs with grand physical gestures. By 1956 he was touring Europe and he recorded the song Quand on n'a que l'amour that brought him his first major recognition and he would appear in a show with Maurice Chevalier and Michel Legrand.
He composed and recorded his songs almost exclusively in French, but he occasionally also included parts in Flemish as in Marieke, although he had much griefs towards Flemish, to the extent of writing a harsh song, Les F..., full of insults towards Flanders, its inhabitants and most of all their language. It is argued however that his hostility was only to certain ultra-nationalists (such as the Vlaams Blok today) who are equally hated by most Flemish people (as his song says, "you dirty Flanders but Flanders judges you"). Another likewise song, Les Flamandes, is however considered comic and only incidentally associated to Flemings who serve as a mere pretext to vilipend humanity in general. Although France was his "spiritual nation" and that he expressed contradictory statments about his native Belgium, everybody looks over this matter through some of his best compositions, tribute to Belgium, like Le plat pays or Il neige sur Liège.
His thematics covers almost all aspects of whatever fits to artistic expression, especially about love (Je t'aime, Litanies pour un retour, Dulcinéa), society (Les singes, Les bourgeois, Jaurès) and spiritual concerns (Le bon Dieu, Dites, si c'était vrai, Fernand). No style constrains him entirely. He was as efficient in funny compositions (Les bonbons, Le lion, Comment tuer l'amant de sa femme...) as in heart-breaking texts (Voir un ami pleurer, Fils de..., Jojo). His acute perception made him an innovative and creative painter of the daily life with rare poetic easiness. He was indeed a master in poetic constructs. He had both intelligence of striking and stunningly simple wordings and very picturial and meaningful vocabulary. None other like him could put as much novelty and meaning in a sentence from a few words of common use. He had also a bright sense of metaphors, as in Je suis un soir d'été where the narrator is a summer's evening telling what he observes as he falls on a city. Although a master with lyrics, also his musical themes were of the first standard and also here no style captures him entirely. He composed both rythmic, lively and captivating tunes (L'aventure, Rosa, Au printemps) as well as sad and solemn songs (La quête, J'en appelle, Pourquoi faut-il que les hommes s'ennuient?)
He is widely recognized in French--speaking countries as among the best composers of all times in this language.
He played in the musical l'homme de la Mancha that he also directed and appeared in films without however displaying abilities of any comparison with his musical performances. For twenty years he was a major star gaining recognition beyong French audiences. In 1973 he retreated to French Polynesia, remaining there until 1977 when he returned to Paris and recorded his final album (which turned out to be one of his best).
JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS was an American musical revue of the art of Jacques Brel. It has played around the world for years.
- Ne me quitte pas
- Quand on n'a que l'amour
- La chanson des vieux amants
- La valse à mille temps
- Une île
- Les bonbons
- L'aventure c'est l'aventure
- Mon oncle Benjamin
- Les risques du métier