Songs to the Siren

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La Valse à Mille Temps

Jacques Brel


Belgian Jacques Brel achieved success beyond the French-speaking world, and has influenced artists from many cultures and genres. This piece is quite amazing in the way it plays with language, and with tempo. Starting off as a slow waltz, it puns its way to a high-speed crescendo.

Brel was from a traditionally Flemish family, but from the part of Belgium around Brussels that adopted French in relatively recent times.

I first heard this track from the 1950s relatively recently - maybe 10-12 years ago, via Stuart Maconie on the radio. The melody and the build-up of tempo is the first thing you notice, and the speeed-up leads to some quite spectacular vocal gymnastics.

But it’s also worth trying to follow the lyrics if you speak any French at all. It’s full of puns and plays on words.