Jacques Brel (April 8, 1929 - October 9, 1978) was a Belgian French-speaker author-composer with such a strong power of expression in his lyrics that many consider him a poet as well. He also had some minor activity as an actor and director. He was born in Schaerbeek, Belgium, a small city north of Brussels.
In the early 1950s he went to Paris, writing music and singing in the city cabarets and music-halls, where on stage he expressed his songs with grand physical gestures. By 1956 he was touring Europe and he recorded the song Quand on n'a que l'amour that brought him his first major recognition. He appeared in a show with Maurice Chevalier and Michel Legrand.
His themes are extremely diverse, exploring love (Je t'aime, Litanies pour un retour, Dulcinéa), society (Les singes, Les bourgeois, Jaurès) and spiritual concerns (Le bon Dieu, Dites, si c'était vrai, Fernand). His work is not limited to one style. He was as proficient in funny compositions (Les bonbons, Le lion, Comment tuer l'amant de sa femme...) as in heart-breaking ones (Voir un ami pleurer, Fils de..., Jojo).
Brel's acute perception made him an innovative and creative painter of daily life with rare poetic ease. He was a master poet. His intelligent use of words was striking and simple, exhibiting a very visual and meaningful vocabulary. Few of his peers are considered to match his skill in fitting as much novelty and meaning in a sentence from a few words of common use.
Brel had also a bright sense of metaphor, as in Je suis un soir d'été where the narrator is a summer's evening telling what he observes as he falls on a city. Although regarded a master with lyrics, his musical themes were of the first standard, and also here he was not limited to one style. He composed both rhythmic, lively and captivating tunes (L'aventure, Rosa, Au printemps) as well as sad and solemn songs. (La quête, J'en appelle, Pourquoi faut-il que les hommes s'ennuient?)
He composed and recorded his songs almost exclusively in French, and is widely recognized in French-speaking countries as one of the best French-language composers of all time. But he occasionally included parts in Flemish as in Marieke, and also recorded Flemish versions of a few songs such as Le Plat Pays and Les bourgeois (since his own command of the language was poor, these were translated by Ernst van Altena, renowned translator of French song). His attitude towards the Flemish seemed contradictory: at times he declared himself Flemish and presented himself to the world as a Flemish singer, but he also ruffled the Flemish with the comic song Les Flamandes that depicted a rustic lifestyle, and later with lines such as "Vive les Belgiens, merde pour les flamingants" ("Long live Belgians, (excrement) for Flemings") from La, la, la (1967) and especially the vicious song Les F... on his last album. It appears that his hostility was to certain far-right Flemish nationalists (similar to today's Vlaams Blok) and that he used the word "flamingants" (as opposed to "flamands") as a pejorative term for these nationalists. See this article (http://dossiers.lesoir.be/brel/brussel/A_03AF02.asp) (in French) from the Belgian paper Le Soir for further discussion.
Although France was Brel's "spiritual nation" and he expressed contradictory statements about his native Belgium, many overlook this matter as some of his best compositions pay tribute to Belgium, like Le plat pays or Il neige sur Liège.
As actor he gained fame beside Claude Jade in the film My uncle Benjamin.
He played in the musical l'homme de la Mancha that he also directed, and appeared in films, though his film performances are not thought to be of quite the same caliber as his musical performances. For twenty years he was a major star gaining recognition beyong French audiences. In 1973 he retreated to French Polynesia, remaining there until 1977 when he returned to Paris and recorded his well-received final album.
Brel died of lung cancer and was buried in the Altuona Cemetery, Altuona, Hiva-Oa, Iles Marquises, French Polynesia only a few yards away from painter Paul Gauguin.
JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS was an American musical revue of the art of Jacques Brel. It has played around the world for years.
English versions of his songs have been recorded by artists as varied as David Bowie, Scott Walker, Terry Jacks, Alex Harvey, Jack Lukeman, and Marc Almond.
Ne me quitte pas (http://www.frmusique.ru/texts/b/brel_jacques/nemequittepas.htm)
Quand on n'a que l'amour
La chanson des vieux amants
La valse à mille temps
( from the brel-dedicated site of www.frmusic.ru/texts/b/brel_jacques/ (http://www.frmusique.ru/texts/b/brel_jacques/) there are more songs lyrics available for free )
Acting roles in film include:
L'aventure c'est l'aventure
My uncle Benjamin
Les risques du métier