Some time ago, a few of my students at Boston Arts Academy and I got to talking about French-Guadeloupean composer Chevalier de Saint-Georges (warning: strong language), a wildly skilled fencer, superb violinist, and general badass who lived around the time of the French Revolution. One of them brought up the totally unrelated/haunting song "Chevalier" by Canadian R&B/soul singer-songwriter Daniel Caesar and the idea for a playlist was born.
Here's some music written by people named Chevalier or that have "Chevalier" (French for "knight") in the name somewhere:
Some thoughts on a few of these:
- Of course, a couple pieces from the Chevalier (de Saint-Georges) who sparked this idea, starting with the first movement of the overture of his most famous opera, L'Amant anonyme (which is also his Symphony No. 2 somehow ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ). Later, the slow movement from his Violin Concerto in D Major, which suitably showed off his impressive violining.
- The French math rock group Totorro was one of the new things I found while going down this rabbit hole. Their "Chevalier Bulltoe", the second song from their debut album Home Alone, is a ton of fun, and everything else of theirs I've heard by now is just as refreshing and lively.
- If you've ever talked to me about film music, you know I have mixed feelings about Hans Zimmer. That said, his "Chevaliers de Sangreal" is pretty freakin' cool, regardless of anything, and the high point of an otherwise pretty bad movie.
- Edith Piaf lived exactly the kind of colorful life you'd expect from a French singer of her stature and time: car crashes, morphine addictions, mobsters, and spectacular roller coasters of fame and infamy. I didn't know this song of hers before, but it's a fun one! (Connecting to Zimmer, he used her "Non, je ne regrette rien" to great effect in Inception.)
- I know Maurice Chevalier mostly from his work on "The Aristocats" (can we agree that movie was really weird?) and "Livin' in the Sunlight" (on this playlist), but he was apparently quite a big name cabaret singer for several decades in the US and France.
- Alizée was another new name for me, with her quasi-love song "Mon chevalier" (I say "quasi" because the descriptions of her knight are... less than flattering). This song comes from her fifth studio album entitled 5. Take a moment to breathe that naming creativity in. The song itself is quite pretty!
- I was shocked to discover the Québécois singer Céline Dion has in fact done more than one song, this one a take on the French children's song "The wolf, the doe, and the knight."
- Going waaay back, Baroque composer Michel Delalande was a Chevalier of the Order of St. Michel, so he earns a spot on the list with the 2nd movement of his haunting "Miserere".
- Another "Mon chevalier" on the list, and this was probably the coolest song that was new for me. French electronic composer Émilie Simon wrote this song in memory of her husband Franky Knight, who died during the swine flue pandemic in '09. Her voice and style remind me a bit of Björk, the swan-wearing Icelandic singer-songwriter who is one of my favorite musicians.
- Adrien Chevalier is a jazz violinist, so you know he's doing things right. He paired up with fellow New Yorker and singer Myriam Phiro on this arrangement of one of my favorite Mexican ballads, "Besame Mucho".
- And last but not least, a bit of a stretch: the closing movement of Stravinsky's iconic Firebird Suite actually has chevaliers hidden in the subtitle, with the "Return to Life of the Petrified Knights". And it makes a good ending, so why not.