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Portrait of a Young Woman in Profile with Pearls in Her Hair, c. 1750
François Boucher (29 September 1703 – 30 May 1770)
(Photo credit: Sights Within

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (28 June 1712 – 2 July 1778) was a political philosopher, one of the encyclopédistes, an educator, a novelist, and a composer.  He wrote the Encyclopédie‘s entry on “Music.”  As a musician, he was also the main figure, with the Baron Melchior von Grimm, in a “Quarrel” (“Querelle des Bouffons” or “War of the Comic Artists”), perhaps the most famous mêlée in the history of music, not to say eighteenth-century philosophy: sentiment over reason!  Not quite, but nearly so.  I have posted an article on Pergolesi and discussed this event.

The “Querelle des Bouffons” started after the second performance, in Paris, of a short intermezzo, La Serva padrona (The Servant Turned Mistress), composed by Pergolesi (4 January 1710 – 16 March 1736),  performed at the Royal Academy of Music, the Paris Opera, on 1 August 1752. Pergolesi’s intermezzo charmed the audience and everyone wrote a letter or pamphlet, some 61 documents, on the subject.  The many commentators were writing about the relative merits of French lyric tragedy, a serious genre, and Italian opera buffa, meant to entertain the audience during a pause (between acts).  The letters made it clear.  By and large, the audience wanted to be moved by music, moved to tears, in some cases.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau had started the quarrel and part of his arsenal was an operetta, or intermède, entitled Le Devin du village (The Village’s Soothsayer), first performed at Fontainebleauon 18 October 1752, two months after the performance of the Serva padrona. However, as noted above, what was at the stake was “reason” versus “sentiment.”  Reason was not defeated, but sentiment gained considerable ground. Jean-Philippe Rameau was at the time the most prominent composer in France. His tragédie lyrique came under attack, but his 1722 Traité de l’harmonie, the theory of music, remains authoritative.

The quarrel lasted two years.  However, Le Devin du village, composed by Rousseau, was performed at court in 1753 and attracted audiences until 1830.  It was last performed in 1830, the day Hector Berlioz premiered his Symphonie fantastiquea masterfully orchestrated symphony.

There has been a revival of Rousseau’s Devin du village and, particularly, of the aria “J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur,” sung by Colette, when she thinks Colin is no longer in love with her.  It seems to have entered the standard repertoire.  Interestingly, Rousseau is the first composer to have written both the music and the libretto of Le Devin du village.

A Summary of the Plot, from Wikipedia

“Colin and Colette love one another, yet they suspect each other of being unfaithful — in Colin’s case, with the lady of the manor, and in Colette’s with a courtier. They each seek the advice and support of the village soothsayer in order to reinforce their love. After a series of deceptions, Colin and Colette reconcile and are happily married.” (See Le Devin du village, Wikipedia.)

Head of a Woman from Behind, c. 1740
François Boucher
(Photo credit: Wikipaintings)

“J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur,”an aria

This is a mostly literal translation.  Creating poetry was not my purpose.  I concentrated on making the French text clear and divided it using numbers. Rousseau was an exceptionally gifted and accomplished individual, but most musicologists do not consider Le Devin du village a masterpiece.  However, as mentioned above, “J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur” is performed more and more frequently and, from a historical point of view, Le Devin du village is an important intermède.

 “J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur”

Colette soupirant et s’essuyant les yeux de son tablier.
(Colette, sighing and drying her eyes with her apron.)
  • J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur;  (I have lost all my happiness;) 
  • J’ai perdu mon serviteur;  (I have lost my servant;)
  • Colin me délaisse ! (Colin is staying away from me!)
  • Colin me délaisse !
  • J’ai perdu mon serviteur; (I have lost my servant;)
  • J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur; (I have lost all my happiness;)
  • Colin me délaisse ! (Colin is staying away from me!)
  • Colin me délaisse ! 
  • Hélas il a pu changer ! (Alas, he was able to change!)
  • Je voudrais n’y plus songer: (I would like no longer to think about it;)
  • Hélas, hélas, (Alas)
  • Hélas,
  • Hélas, il a pu changer ! (Alas, he was able to change!)
  • Je voudrais n’y plus songer: (I would like no longer to think about it;) 
  • Hélas, Hélas
  • J’y songe sans cesse ! (I am forever thinking about it!)

  • J’y songe sans cesse ! 
  • J’ai perdu mon serviteur;
  • J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur;
  • Colin me délaisse !
  • Colin me délaisse !
  • J’ai perdu mon serviteur;
  • J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur;
  • Colin me délaisse !
  • Colin me délaisse ! 
  • Il m’aimait autrefois, et ce fut mon malheur. (He loved me in the past, and that was my misfortune.)
  • Mais quelle est donc celle qu’il me préfère ? (But who is the one he prefers to me?)
  • Elle est donc bien charmante ! Imprudente Bergère, (She must be very charming!  Careless Shepherdess,)
  • Ne crains-tu point les maux que j’éprouve en ce jour? (Don’t you fear the pain [ills] I feel today?)
  • Colin m’a pu changer, tu peux avoir ton tour. (Colin was able to replace me, you may have your turn.)
  • Que me sert d’y rêver sans cesse ? (Of what use is it to me to think about it always?)
  • Rien ne peut guérir mon amour, (Nothing can cure my love,)
  • Et tout augmente ma tristesse.  (And everything increases my sadness.) 
J’ai perdu mon serviteur ;
J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur ;
Colin me délaisse !
Colin me délaisse !
  • Je veux le haïr … je le dois … (I want to hate him … I must ...)
  • Peut-être il m’aime encore … pourquoi me fuir sans cesse ? (Perhaps he still loves me … why is he always avoiding [fleeing from] me?)
  • Il me cherchait tant autrefois ! (He so sought me in the past!)
  • Le Devin du canton fait ici sa demeure ; (The township‘s soothsayer makes his home here)
  • Il sait tout ; il saura le sort de mon amour. (He knowns everything; he will know the fate of my love.)
  • Je le vois, et je veux m‘éclaircir en ce jour. (I see him, and I want matters cleared up for me today.)

RELATED ARTICLE: my personal favourite post, because of Pergolesi, dead at 26.

Source:  Opera Today (about the performance below)
Gabriela Bürgler (soprano)
Cantus Firmus Consort & Cantus Firmus Kammerchor
Andreas Reize (conductor)
artwork: unidentifield

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “J’ai perdu tout mon bonheur” 


© Micheline Walker
4 December 2013
Jean-Jacques Rousseau,
Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1753)
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)