Les Trois Cloches

“A village hidden deep in the valley” The Three Bells originally derived from a 1939 piano instrumental by writer, Jean Gilles Villard. Villard also operated a club that became a famous Swiss hub for the Nazi’s. Among the acts he booked was a six member male Chorus from Lyon, France, known as Les Compagnons de la Musique.
Organized in 1941 by Louis Liebard, the Chorus primarily specialized in folk material. Most of its members came from a craftsman’s guild, but one, Marc Herrand was actually Marc Holtz, a Jewish bandleader hiding from the Germans. As the war progressed, Liebard added two more members to the group, including a nineteen year old lead singer named Fred Mella who was also fleeing from possible arrest and internment.

As entertainers, Les Compagnons traveled freely through occupied France and into neutral Switzerland. Wherever they sang, its members gathered clandestine information about the German military operations and disseminated it throughout the French resistance. Marc Herrand probably heard Villard’s distinctive tune at the club in late 1945. The melody still lingered in his memory when he visited the grave site of Francois Nocot and his wife. Inspired by the beautiful setting, Herrand wrote “Les Trois Cloches”, a lyrical saga about church bells marking Nicot’s birth, marriage and death.

“Les Trois Cloches” becomes a showcase for the Chorus and Mella’s passionate lead vocals. Edith Piaf first heard Les Compangons performing it during an early 1944 Parisian benefit for railway workers. She noticed the audiences’ response to the Chorus musical precision, topical parodies and especially the moving “Les Trois Cloches”. When Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944, its members joined the French Army Choir. When founder, Louis Liebard left in 1946, the newly renamed Les Compagnons expanded to nine voices and moved to Paris. Recalling the railway event two years earlier, Piaf invited them to tour with her across Europe and North America. The group also backed her on her French Columbia recording of “Les Trois Cloches”.

Les Compagnons de la Chanson continued expanding in English speaking audiences, touring in Europe and North America. The Chorus commissioned Bert Reisfeld to translate two of its concert staples, including “Les Trois Cloches”. Reisfeld’s translation remained true to Villards’s basic conception; church bells heralding a person’s birth, marriage, and death. Francois Nicot was anglicized into the familiar JIMMY BROWN. Released in 1951, The Three Bells (Jimmy Brown song) became an enormous hit across England and Canada.
from: http://whisnews21.com/2012/05/11/story-behind-the-song-three-bells-by-the-browns/

Les Trois Cloches (Jean Villard & Marc Herrand)

Village au fond de la vallée,
Comme égaré, presque ignoré
Voici dans la nuit étoilée
Qu’un nouveau né nous est donné
Jean François Nicot il se nomme
Il est joufflu, tendre et rosé
A l’église beau petite homme,
Demain tu seras baptisé.

Une cloche sonne, sonne,
Sa voix d’écho en écho,
Dit au monde qui s’étonne :
C’est pour Jean-François Nicot.
C’est pour accueillir une âme,
Une fleur qui s’ouvre au jour
A peine à peine une flamme,
Encore faible qui réclame
Protection, tendresse, amour”

Village au fond de la vallée,
Loin des chemins, loin des humains,
Voici qu’après dix-neuf années,
Coeur en émoi, le Jean-François
Prend pour femme la douce Elise,
Blanche comme fleur de pommier.
Devant Dieu dans la vieille église
Ce jour ils se sont mariés

Toutes les cloches sonnent, sonnent,
Leurs voix d’écho en écho
Merveilleusement couronnent
La noce à François Nicot
“Un seul coeur une seule âme”,
Dit le prêtre” et pour toujours
Soyez une pure flamme
Qui s’élève et qui proclame
La grandeur de votre amour”.

Village au fond de la vallée,
Des jours, des nuits, le temps a fuit
Voici qu’en la nuit étoilée
Un coeur s’endort, François est mort,
Car toute chair est comme l’herbe ,
Elle est comme la fleur des champs,
Epis, fruits murs, bouquets et gerbes,
Hélas tout va se desséchant…

Une cloche sonne, sonne,
Elle chante dans le vent
Obsédente et monotone,
Elle redit aux vivants
“Ne tremblez pas coeurs fidèles
Dieu vous fera signe un jour,
Vous trouverez sous son aile,
vec la vie éternelle,
L’éternité de l’amour”.

Three Bells (Translated by Bert Reisfeld)

There is a village hidden deep in the valley
Among the pine trees half forlorn
And there on a Sunday morning
Little Jimmy Brown was born

All the chapel bells were ringing
in the little valley town
And the song that they were singing
was for baby Jimmy Brown

Then the little congregation,
prayed for guidance from above

Lead us not into temptation,
bless this hour of meditation
Guide him with eternal love

There is a village hidden deep in the valley
Beneath the mountains high above
And there, twenty years thereafter
Jimmy was to meet his love

All the chapel bells were ringing,
was a great day in his life
‘Cause the song that they were singing
was for Jimmy and his wife

Then the little congregation,
prayed for guidance from above

Lead us not into temptation,
bless, oh Lord this celebration
May their lives be filled with love

From the village hidden deep in the valley
One rainy morning dark and gray
A soul winged its way to heaven
Little Jimmy Brown had passed away

Just a lonely bell was ringing
in the little valley town
Was farewell that it was singing
to our little Jimmy Brown

And the little congregation,
prayed for guidance from above

Lead us not into temptation,
may his soul find the salvation
Of thy great eternal love
(Hallelujah) (Hallelujah)


Play the song :

About The Translation.
see – https://svib.wordpress.com/tag/les-trois-cloches/

The original French lyrics recount, in three somewhat lengthy sections, the birth, marriage, and death of a fellow with the ordinary French name of Jean-François Nicot.

The English translation is localized: Jean-François Nicot becomes Jimmy Brown. There are other differences too, which may be cultural. In French, the boy is born in a place that is “like a lost village, almost unknown.” In English, it is “among the pine trees, half forlorn.” It could be that Reisfeld the translator, being Viennese, was thinking of “forlorn” as a straight translation of “lost” (like “verloren” in German), but a place can resemble a lost village without suffering the melancholy that’s implied by “half forlorn.” Maybe Reisfeld feels the need to compensate for that melancholy, for he has Jimmy Brown born on a sunny morning while the French calls it a starry night.

In the French original, the church bell then calls out: “This is for Jean-François Nicot. It’s to welcome a soul, a flower that will open out one day.” When the bells chime for his wedding, it’s the priest who makes the announcement: “A single heart, a single soul, and may you always be a pure flame rising to proclaim the greatness of your love.” For the funeral it’s the bell again that speaks to the mourners: “One day God will give you a sign. Under his wing you will find, together with eternal life, the eternity of love.” Those remarks — by the priest in one case, by the supernaturally speaking bell in the others — dramatically conclude each section of the song.

The French, of course, are traditionally Catholic, with a religion that channels God’s authority down to the people through the priest. Though the English translation does briefly mention a priest, it replaces the concluding lines for the birth, marriage, and death with prayers by “the little congregation,” taking a more democratic, bottom-up, Protestant-friendly attitude toward religion.

When the man dies, once more on a starry night, the French takes the opportunity for some reflection: “All flesh is like the grass. It is like the flower of the field. The grain, the ripe fruits, the bouquets, and the garlands — alas — all wither and depart.” The English does not philosophize so grimly. It does choose a “rainy morning dark and grey” to replace the starry night this time, but it considers that Jimmy Brown’s life “had been like a flower: budding, blooming till the end” rather than withering. The consolation is in the life that “good old Jimmy Brown” led before his “soul winged its way to Heaven,” rather than in an assurance of eternal life for all the mourners. They pray that “his soul find the salvation of thy great eternal love;” but for themselves, as in the other two verses, they pray “Lead us not into temptation” (which is not in the French) as people who feel the responsibility of finding their own way.