Reynaldo Hahn

Reynaldo Hahn was a Venezuelan, naturalized French, composer, conductor, music critic, diarist, theatre director, and salon singer. Best known as a composer of songs, he wrote in the French classical tradition of the mélodie.

Reynaldo Hahn was born in Caracas, Venezuela, the youngest of twelve children. Reynaldo's father Carlos was an affluent engineer, inventor, and businessman of German-Jewish extraction; his mother, Elena Marí­a de Echenagucia, was a Venezuelan of Spanish, (Basque) origin, and as most wealthy families descended from Spanish colonists in that country. His father knew the Venezuelan President Antonio Guzmán Blanco, but the increasingly volatile political atmosphere at the end of his first term caused his father to retire and leave Venezuela.

Hahn's family moved to Paris when he was three years old. Although he showed interest in his native music of Caracas in his youth, France would "determine and define Hahn's musical identity in later life". The city and its cultural resources: the Paris Opéra, the Paris Opéra Ballet, the Opéra-Comique, in addition to the nexus of artists and writers, proved an ideal setting for the precocious Hahn.

A child prodigy, Reynaldo made his début at the salon of the eccentric Princess Mathilde (Napoleon's niece), accompanying himself on the piano as he sang arias by Jacques Offenbach. At the age of eight, Hahn composed his first songs.

Despite the Paris Conservatoire's tradition of antipathy towards child prodigies–Franz Liszt had famously been rebuffed by the school many years before–Hahn entered the school at the age of ten. His teachers included Jules Massenet, Charles Gounod, Camille Saint-Saí«ns and í‰mile Decombes.Alfred Cortot and Maurice Ravel were fellow students.

In 1888 Reynaldo composed "Si mes vers avaient des ailes" to a poem by Victor Hugo; it was an instant success when published by Le Figaro. From this exposure and publicity, Hahn came into contact with many leading artists in Paris (in addition to the relationships he cultivated at the Conservatoire). The famed soprano Sybil Sanderson and the writer Alphonse Daudet invited Hahn into their social sphere. Hahn had "a special gift" of attracting "important people to his side".

Like many other French song composers of the time, Hahn was attracted to Hugo's poetry. Many of the hallmarks of Hahn's music are already evident in "Si mes vers": the undulating piano accompaniment, the vocal line derived from the patterns and intimacy of speech, the surprising intervals and cadences, the cleverly placed mezza voce, and the sophistication and depth of feeling–all the more impressive because he was only thirteen when he composed it.