On the wings of nostalgia and feeling,
between Italy and France
The artistic cooperation of Federico Longhi (an internationally famous baritone) and Cristina Pantaleoni (a refined pianist and teacher of score analysis) has lasted for more than thirty years and originated, for both, in their first years as Conservatory students.
Vocal chamber music is a passion of many years for Federico Longhi, who is frequently engaged on stage in Verdi’s operas. Perhaps, his interest in chamber music is an innate consequence of his studies, under the guidance of such a master of the “scenic word” as was Giuseppe Valdengo. From him, Longhi learnt the indefatigable art of expressive research, applied with equal clarity of diction to both the Italian and the French language, thanks to Longhi’s bilingualism (he was born in Val d’Aosta).
Voice alone does not suffice for this music. The constant dialogue between singing and piano must translate into a union of intentions, which declines itself under the inspiring wing of a game of breaths, of continuous references to melody’s flow, and of a vocal itinerary born out of the common denominator of singing as a poetic intonation. This applies to the expression of feelings, of interior emotions, or of sensations elicited by the contemplation of nature.
This debut album comes as a consequence of years of cooperation and research realized by both artists in the repertoire of the Italian “romanza da salotto” and of the French Belle-Epoque mélodie. It is the duo’s natural landing in the recording studio after so many performances of these works, after digesting their secrets, or rather, finding their expressive soul.
This album is similar to the two faces of a coin, displaying the flowering of the chamber music song in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this itinerary, a collection of chosen works is displayed. As concerns Italian music, it comes from the best-known repertoire of works written by Francesco Paolo Tosti (Non t’amo più, Ideale, L’ultima canzone, La serenata, Malìa, Tristezza, Aprile, Sogno, ’A vucchella, Chanson de l’adieu, Chitarrata). As concerns the French repertoire it is composed by mélodies by Reynaldo Hahn (À Chloris and L’heure exquise), Charles Gounod (Le vallon and Où voulez vous aller?), Claude Debussy (Romance and Beau soir), Gabriel Fauré (Mai and Automne), Jules Massenet (Nuit d’Espagne), César Franck (Nocturne) and Cécile Chaminade (Sombrero).
These two worlds can live side by side if one is able to gather the different itineraries through which one gets to touch the expressive string binding them, i.e. that of melancholic nostalgia.
Francesco Paolo Tosti cooperated with Scapigliatura and Decadentism poets, among whom Gabriele D’Annunzio. He created musical gems with an entirely personal style in his quest of a synthesis between lyrics and music. This was close to an immediately communicative and Italianate melodic flight, belonging to a pathetic intonation strongly marked by the sentimental dimension with a bourgeois imprint. Born in Abruzzo, he studied with Saverio Mercadante at the Conservatorio San Pietro a Majella of Naples, where he graduated in violin and composition. Appreciated by Giuseppe Verdi, Tosti became a teacher of singing at the English court of Queen Victoria; he maintained this post also under her successor, Edward VII, who knighted him. Some of the best-known works among those recorded here display a depth and refinement in their harmonic choices and melodic inflections which are by no means inferior to that of the French works. However, they are not touched by the existential complications proper to the mélodies; for this reason, they are original and unique. This is a consequence of the composer’s choice to dedicate himself always and only to “salon” vocal music, caressed by his flowing melodic communicative immediacy. This represents a compendium of ars amatoria which was appreciated by both the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy, and was never applied, as one could expect, to the world of opera.
Carmelo Errico wrote the lyrics recounting the end of a love in Non t’amo più (1884), but also those expressing the impossible wish for a loved person’s return in Ideale (1882), with a chaste and harmonious melody describing a yearned-for, almost contemplative love. Tosti sketched its very famous melody on the letterhead of the Savini restaurant of Milan. When Federico Longhi sings the words “Torna, caro ideal, torna un istante a sorridermi ancora”, with a softness veiled with crying emotion, beginning “torna” in mezzavoce, and later abandoning himself on the “a” of “ideal”, as if evoking the lost ideal with dreamy nostalgia, then one understands that this music has an expressive potential capable of going beyond melodic likeability, and of striking one’s emotionality. This was understood by D’Annunzio who, upon listening to this piece, defined it as “sospiro di melodia”, “melody’s sigh”.
We continue with L’ultima canzone (1905), on lyrics by Francesco Cimmino. Here a man is in despair because his beloved will soon marry another man. Then there is the rocking La serenata (1888), on lyrics by Giovanni Alfredo Cesareo, and Malìa (1887), on a poem by Rocco Emanuele Pagliara: here a lover wonders whether there is a love potion or an arcane power in the flower he was given. In the words by Neapolitan poet Riccardo Mazzola, for Tristezza (1908), there is a man who contemplates the sea with his beloved, and is seized by an inexplicable melancholy. In Aprile (1882), Rocco Emanuele Pagliara’s lines offer the image of spring’s awakening linked to love. Lorenzo Stecchetti, aka Olindo Guerrini, proposes in Sogno (1886) the rocking evocation of a love dream. In the extremely famous ’A vucchella (1907), brought to global success by the great Enrico Caruso, and set to music by Tosti with languid passion on D’Annunzio’s lyrics, the Vate poet accepts the challenge of the Neapolitan dialect. He plays with the title’s word, “the little mouth”, of which he would like to savour the kiss and the flavour; a mouth likened to a slightly withered rose.
The lyrics by French poet Edmond Haraucourt, for Chanson de l’adieu (1898) express the feeling of leaving intended as a small loss of what one loves (“partir c’est mourir un peu”); the words by Riccardo Mazzola for Chitarrata (1909), excerpted from romances from Abruzzo, are the background for yet another serenade with a melancholic flavour, dedicated to an only-dreamed-of woman.
The French composers of the end of the nineteenth century were frequently in touch with the poètes maudits (the cooperation between composers such as Hahn and Fauré and Paul Verlaine was paradigmatic). The melancholic line, even when it is marked by a penetrating sensuousness (see Nuit d’Espagne by Massenet) or by the vaporous traits of a singing stifled by tears, bends itself, rather than on the wings of song, on a sighing delicacy, on the soul’s whisper, on the photograph of interiority. This is never externally expressed, yet it is capable of transmitting, with its melodies focused on the word, the deep feeling substantiating these pages. They are wrapped in a heaven of perfect beauty, among glares of light charged with hope and disquieting depressive shadows.
We move therefore to Gounod, whose mélodie Où voulez vous aller? (1839) on lyrics by Théophile Gautier, with its barcarolle tempo, has a captivating fascination, through which, in the seducer’s extravagant promises, a young girl is invited to travel; whilst the song on Alphonse de Lamartine’s lines, Le vallon (1840) is veined by melancholic memories. Here a heart tired of everything, even of hope, seeks a serene asylum in the valleys of childhood. There one can repose and breathe the last breath of life awaiting death, and then plunge in the flow of nature which, undaunted, continues its course.
From the atmospheres of composers with an operatic calling such as Gounod or Massenet (who, in Nuit d’Espagne  on lyrics by Louis Gallet, employs folklike harmonies to mirror a Spain-inspired fascination and sensuousness in a night of love) we move on to Claude Debussy. His two mélodies on lyrics by Paul Bourget are Romance (1891), describing an exhausted and suffering soul (“l’âme évaporée et souffrante”), dispersed in the memory of the lilies’ lost perfume as a loving remembrance, and Beau soir (1880), whose light melody offers us the image of a beautiful evening. Here the rivers are tinged with the rosy nuance of sunset, and the wheat fields are moved by a warm breeze: one should enjoy this beauty as long as one is young and evenings seem beautiful, before the river’s waves flow into the sea and we go to our tomb.
We then listen to pages by Gabriel Fauré, a composer who made of the mélodie the heart of his output, pouring elegance and harmonic refinement in it. His works recall interior suggestions inspired by the seasons: in Mai (ca. 1862), on lyrics by Victor Hugo, he evokes the blossoming of spring flowers, while in Automne (1878), on words by Paul Armand Silvestre, he speaks of nostalgic regrets full of melancholy.
In Nocturne (1884) by César Franck, the protagonist of Louis de Fourcaud’s lines is the image of night’s fresh transparency, with its stars and silence; it is ideal for being embraced under its wing in the rocking serenity of slumber.
We then listen to L’heure exquise by Reynaldo Hahn, a singular figure – Venezuelan-born, later naturalized as a French composer. He was a paradigmatic character of the Parisian Belle Epoque and a close friend of Marcel Proust, with whom he also had a sentimental relationship. L’heure exquise is the fifth of the seven Chansons grises (composed between 1887 and 1890), freely inspired by poems by Paul Verlaine. It is an invitation to love under moonlight: the moon, white and luminous, favours the lovers’ encounter in an embrace of silent intimacy. Then we find his most famous mélodie, À Chloris (1913) on lyrics by Théophile de Viau, a French libertine poet who lived under the rule of Louis XIII. It is taken as a model and as a paradigm of the French Impressionist taste which still feels the influence of the dying late romanticism. It requires from the voice a “recited” singing style, expressing a languid declaration of love: “if it is true, O Chloris, that you love me – and I feel that you do love me – I believe that not even the kings have a joy such as mine…”. The piece expertly manages to find a balance between a whispered confidence and the words declared with the grace of an old-fashioned conversation. This is enhanced by the use of a melodic line recalling Bachian suggestions.
Finally, we find Sombrero (1894) by Cécile Chaminade, a singular figure of female pianist and composer. Indeed, she was the first female composer to receive, in 1913, the French Légion d’honneur. In this extravagant piece, both witty and delightful, the lines by Edouard Guinand describe a young girl mocked because she wears a sombrero to attract men.
These two worlds, the Italian and the French, are dissimilar but complementary in their musical portrayal of nostalgia. The voice by Federico Longhi, soft, flexible and rich of a rainbow of colours and chiaroscuros, constantly striving in order to transmit meaning to sound starting from the word, and the delicate, sensitive and caressing, but also luminous piano touch by Cristina Pantaleoni, in a perfect syntony of artistic purposes, manage to convey an impression of these two worlds. Starting from their artistic awareness about the works they perform, these become poems clad in notes.
Federico Longhi: Baritone affirmed internationally, he began his singing studies under the guidance of Giuseppe Valdengo, Arrigo Pola, Franca Mattiucci, Bianca Maria Casoni e Alida Ferrarini.
He perfected at the Music Academy of Senigallia with Maestro Leone Magiera, at the Toscanini Foundation in Parma, at the Rossini Academy in Pesaro with Maestro Alberto Zedda, at the Katia Ricciarelli International Academy and at the Accademia di Alto perfezionamento Verona Arena under the guidance of Raina Kabaivanska.
Winner of numerous competitions, from 1995 began his career with the debut of Figaro in the Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini, continuing his now numerous debuts alongside the great figures of the Lyric Theatre and directed by internationally renowned directors.
It is guest soloist in the major Italian theaters such as the Verona Arena, Napoli San Carlo, Bologna Comunale, Palermo Massim, Parma Regio, Torino Regio, Trieste Verdi, Genova Carlo Felice, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and other Italian and foreign theaters, includind the Bayerische Staatsoper in Monaco, the Operà in Nice, the Landestheatre in Linz, the Mainfranken Theatre in Wurzburg, the Opera theatre in Bonn, the Theater in Erfurt. Federico Longhi held numerous concerts in Chamber music, in duo with the pianists Cristina Pantaleoni, Giulio Zappa e Frank Villard, in Chamber music repertoire in French, and he formed a duo with the harpist Stefania Saglietti. Ranging in repertoire, he performed Tango and recorded the CD tango "Vos sos el Tango" with the Quintet "Pentango", holding concerts in Italy, Spain, United States of America, Costarica, Brasil, Argentina, Japan and Europe. Among the last most important commitments include La Traviata directed by Henning Brockhaus at the Teatro Massimo in Palerm, in Maribor directed by Hugo de Ana, La Bohème at the Festival Pucciniano directed by Ettore Scola and the inauguration of the teatro Zhuhai (China) with the Turandot by Laura Bahia.
Maria Cristina Pantaleoni: After graduating from the "G. Verdi" Conservatory in Turin, from 1986 to 1992 she attended the Ecole Internationale de Piano in Lausanne with Fausto Zadra. During these years, she also specialized in the chamber repertoire in Mestre with artists such as Vernikov, Asciolla, Bogino, and Meunier. She attended a special course by Alina Czerny -Stefanska in Novara in 1991 and a Chamber Music course at the Accademia Ducale in Genoa with Dario de Rosa - pianist of Trio di Trieste - in 1996. Winner in national and international competitions, her repertoire ranges from solo to chamber music. She is frequently involved in concerts with important soloists as well as section leaders of major orchestras in concert seasons in Italy and abroad. She has performed as soloist with Aosta Symphony Orchestra, Piacenza Philharmonic Orchestra, and Orchestra Camerata Mozart of Rome, recording projects for Rai-Radio Televisione Italiana and Spanish National Television. For over twenty years she collaborates with internationally renowned opera singers, also in the role of substitute-teacher. With some of her fellow musicians, in 2019 she founded a piano and wind instruments ensemble, named Ars Nova Quintet, touring in prestigious halls with Mozart and Beethoven's Quintets. It is thirty years since she started an artistic partnership with Federico Longhi, performing together operatic and art song repertoire and exploring the French and Italian melodies composed in the late 19th century. Currently, she is a professor of score-reading at the Conservatoire de la Vallée d'Aoste.
César Franck: (b Liège, 10 Dec 1822; d Paris, 8 Nov 1890). French composer, teacher and organist of Belgian birth. He was one of the leading figures of French musical life during the second half of the 19th century.
Cecile Chaminade: (b Paris, 8 Aug 1857; d Monte Carlo, 13 April 1944). French composer and pianist. While it is striking that nearly all of Chaminade’s approximately 400 compositions were published, even more striking is the sharp decline in her reputation as the 20th century progressed. This is partly attributable to modernism and a general disparagement of late Romantic French music, but it is also due to the socio-aesthetic conditions affecting women and their music.
The third of four surviving children, Chaminade received her earliest musical instruction from her mother, a pianist and singer; her first pieces date from the mid-1860s. Because of paternal opposition to her enrolling at the Paris Conservatoire, she studied privately with members of its faculty: Félix Le Couppey, A.-F. Marmontel, M.-G.-A. Savard and Benjamin Godard. In the early 1880s Chaminade began to compose in earnest, and works such as the first piano trio op.11 (1880) and the Suite d’orchestre op.20 (1881) were well received. She essayed an opéra comique, La Sévillane, which had a private performance (23 February 1882). Other major works of the decade were the ballet symphonique Callirhoë op.37, performed at Marseilles on 16 March 1888; the popular Concertstück op.40 for piano and orchestra, which was given its première at Antwerp on 18 April 1888; and Les amazones, a symphonie dramatique, given on the same day. After 1890, with the notable exception of the Concertino op.107, commissioned by the Conservatoire (1902), and her only Piano Sonata (op.21, 1895), Chaminade composed mainly character pieces and mélodies. Though the narrower focus may have been due to financial, aesthetic or discriminatory considerations, this music became very popular, especially in England and the USA; and Chaminade helped to promote sales through extensive concert tours. From 1892 she performed regularly in England and became a welcome guest of Queen Victoria and others.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm grew in the USA, largely through the many Chaminade clubs formed around 1900, and in autumn 1908 she finally agreed to make the arduous journey there. She appeared in 12 cities, from Boston to St Louis. With the exception of the concert at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in early November, which featured the Concertstück, the programme consisted of piano pieces and mélodies. The tour was a financial success; critical evaluation, however, was mixed. Many reviews practised a form of sexual aesthetics that was common in Chaminade’s career and that of many women composers in the 19th and 20th centuries (see Citron, 1988). Pieces deemed sweet and charming, especially the lyrical character pieces and songs, were criticized for being too feminine, while works that emphasize thematic development, such as the Concertstück, were considered too virile or masculine and hence unsuited to the womanly nature of the composer. Based also on assumptions about the relative value of large and small works, complex and simple style, and public and domestic music-making, this critical framework was largely responsible for the decline in Chaminade’s compositional reputation in the 20th century.
Prestigious awards began to come her way, culminating in admission to the Légion d’Honneur in 1913 – the first time it was granted to a female composer. Nonetheless, the award was belated and ironic considering that she had been largely ignored in France for some 20 years. In August 1901 Chaminade married Louis-Mathieu Carbonel, an elderly Marseilles music publisher, in what may have been a platonic arrangement; he died in 1907 and she never remarried. While her compositional activity eventually subsided because of World War I and deteriorating health, Chaminade made several recordings, many of them piano rolls, between 1901 and 1914. Aeolian produced additional piano rolls of her works after the war, now with the improved technology of the Duo-Art system. In later years, by which time she was feeling obsolete, she was tended by her niece, Antoinette Lorel, who attempted to promote Chaminade’s music after her death in 1944.
Chaminade was well aware of the social and personal difficulties facing a woman composer, and she suggested that perseverance and special circumstances were needed to overcome them. Her output is noteworthy among women composers for its quantity, its high percentage of published works and for the fact that a large portion – notably piano works and mélodies – was apparently composed expressly for publication and its attendant sales (Enoch was the main publisher). Chaminade composed almost 200 piano works, most of them character pieces (e.g. Scarf Dance, 1888), and more than 125 mélodies (e.g. L’anneau d’argent, 1891); these two genres formed the basis of her popularity. Stylistically, her music is tuneful and accessible, with memorable melodies, clear textures and mildly chromatic harmonies. Its emphasis on wit and colour is typically French. Many works seem inspired by dance, for example Scarf Dance and La lisonjera. Of her larger works, the one-movement Concertstück recalls aspects of Wagner and Liszt, while the three-movement Piano Sonata shows the formal and expressive experimentation that was typical of the genre by the late 19th century (see Citron, 1993, for a feminist analysis of the first movement). The mélodies are idiomatic for the voice and well-suited expressively and poetically to the ambience of the salon or the recital hall, the likely sites for such works. The Concertino has remained a staple of the flute repertory; while it is a large-scale work and thus represents a relatively small part of her output, the piece still provides a sense of the elegance and attractiveness of Chaminade’s music.
Claude Debussy: (b St Germain-en-Laye, 22 Aug 1862; d Paris, 25 March 1918). French composer. One of the most important musicians of his time, his harmonic innovations had a profound influence on generations of composers. He made a decisive move away from Wagnerism in his only complete opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and in his works for piano and for orchestra he created new genres and revealed a range of timbre and colour which indicated a highly original musical aesthetic.
Francesco Paolo Tosti: (b Ortano sul Mare, 9 April 1846; d Rome, 2 Dec 1916). Italian song composer and singing teacher. He entered the Naples Conservatory in 1858, studying the violin under Pinto and composition under Conti and Mercadante. In 1869, illness and overwork as maestrino at the college enforced a period of convalescence in Ortano. There he wrote Non m’ama più and Lamento d’amore, songs which subsequently became popular but which he initially found difficult to publish. Sgambati helped Tosti establish himself in Rome (where his admirers included D’Annunzio) by composing a ballad for a concert at the Sala Dante which Tosti himself sang in addition to his own works. Princess Margherita of Savoy (later Queen of Italy) was present and immediately appointed him her singing teacher and shortly thereafter curator of the court music archives. Tosti first visited London in 1875, and then made annual spring visits until he settled there in 1880. In the same year he was appointed singing teacher to the royal family, and from 1894 he was professor of singing at the RAM. He became a British subject in 1906, was knighted in 1908, and retired to Italy in 1912.
The songs Forever, Goodbye, Mother, At Vespers, Amore, Aprile, Vorrei morire and That Day were among his earliest successes in England. He was a prolific composer to Italian, French and English texts, with a graceful, fluent melodic style that quickly found favour among singers of drawing-room songs and ballads; the ballad ‘alla Tosti’ also found many imitators. His Vocal Albums, the 15 duets Canti popolari abruzzesi, and later songs such as Mattinata and Serenata all enjoyed great success.
Gabriel Fauré: (b Pamiers, Ariège, 12 May 1845; d Paris, 4 Nov 1924). French composer, teacher, pianist and organist. The most advanced composer of his generation in France, he developed a personal style that had considerable influence on many early 20th-century composers. His harmonic and melodic innovations also affected the teaching of harmony for later generations.
Jules Massenet (b Montaud, St Etienne, 12 May 1842; d Paris, 13 Aug 1912). French composer. He was the most prolific and successful composer of opera in France at the end of the 19th century and into the beginning of the 20th.
Reynaldo Hahn (b Caracas, 9 Aug 1874; d Paris, 28 Jan 1947). French composer, conductor and writer of Venezuelan birth. Hahn's mother, Elena Maria Echenagucia, came from a Spanish family, established in Venezuela since the 18th century. His father, Carlos Hahn, was born in Hamburg and emigrated to South America as a young man. Reynaldo was the youngest of 12 children and was not quite four years old when the family moved to Paris. Hahn had already shown a talent for music in Caracas; once in France he began to play, making his début, aged six, at a musical soirée hosted by the Princesse Mathilde, niece of Napoleon I. Hahn entered the Paris Conservatoire in October 1885, where his teachers included Massenet. While there he made the acquaintance of Ravel, Cortot and Edouard Risler, and began to compose songs, among them one which brought him early fame, Si mes vers avaient des ailes. This was dedicated to his sister Maria, who had married the painter Raymundo de Madrazo. It was at their house that Hahn met many of the leading young artists of the time, including Daudet, for whose play L'obstacle Hahn composed incidental music when he was only 16.
Hahn's song cycle to poems by Verlaine, Chansons grises, was completed while he was still a student at the Conservatoire. The first performance was given by Sybil Sanderson, Massenet's favourite soprano, at Daudet's house, with Verlaine present. Even during the years after his death, when Hahn's music fell out of favour, ‘L'heure exquise’, the fifth song of the group, remained known. Hahn's own voice, a light baritone, was put to good use throughout his career; he accompanied himself in his own songs, and in opera arias and popular songs of the day. A collection of 20 of Hahn's songs, published by Heugel in 1895, increased his celebrity, so much so that the novelist and explorer Pierre Loti allowed Hahn to adapt his autobiographical Le mariage de Loti as the opera L'île du rêve. By the time this received its first performance at the Opéra-Comique in 1898, France had been divided by the Dreyfus affair. Hahn and his two closest friends, Marcel Proust and the actress Sarah Bernhardt, joined the Dreyfusard camp. This political turmoil affected the lives of everyone in France, even after 1906 when Dreyfus was finally cleared. Hahn, partly Jewish and fiercely attached to France, was deeply disturbed by this conflict.
Neither L'île du rêve, nor Hahn's second opera, La Carmélite, which was given a prestigious première with Emma Calvé in 1902, remained in the repertory. This disappointment meant that most of Hahn's music composed between 1902 and the outbreak of war in 1914 was not for the stage, although his ballet Le bal de Béatrice d'Este, conceived merely as a divertissement, has remained one of his best-known and most regularly performed pieces. During the 1900s his career as a conductor and critic gained momentum. He began to write for journals (he was critic for La presse from 1899, then for La flèche from 1904); as well as conducting concerts of his own music, he organized a Mozart Festival in Paris, and was invited to conduct Don Giovanni at Salzburg. Although he continued to compose and publish songs, notably the cycle Etudes latines in 1900, his most extensive work from this period is the sequence of piano pieces gathered under the title Le rossignol éperdu (1902–10). A Proustian ethic seems to drive the music, with its evocations and memories of places and impressions. After long neglect, there was a revival of interest in Hahn's instrumental music in the 1990s.
Hahn took French nationality in 1909 and, at the outbreak of war in 1914, volunteered for the army (although he was over the official age limit for conscription). He served as a private, and was eventually promoted to corporal. While at the front he composed the cycle of five songs on poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, and began to sketch his opera based on Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.
Hahn's greatest commercial success as a composer dates from the early 1920s. Returning to Paris after the war, and following the deaths of Proust and Bernhardt, Hahn composed Ciboulette, a nostalgic evocation of 19th-century Paris, set in the old market of Les Halles. This was a huge success, and was followed by the musical comedy about the adventures of the young Mozart in Paris, created for Yvonne Printemps (wife of the playwright Sacha Guitry) who acted and sang the role of the composer. Mozart, although tailored for the Guitrys, has been revived several times, as has a second collaboration with Guitry, O mon bel inconnu.
In the late 1920s Hahn composed what became his best-known concert work, a piano concerto, which was given its first performance by Magda Tagliaferro, who subsequently recorded it with the composer. Hahn's only major commission for the Paris Opéra was Le marchand de Venise. Although it was received with some enthusiasm, and had several revivals, Hahn's mixture of light, operetta-like music for the romantic scenes and his dramatic declamatory style for Shylock is problematic.
Because of his Jewish ancestry, Hahn's music was banned by the Nazis during the occupation of France (1940–44), and the elderly composer spent the war years partly in hiding, but still working on songs, instrumental music, and his final work for the stage, Le oui des jeunes filles, which was first performed posthumously.
At the end of the war, when Hahn returned to Paris (he had eventually settled in Monte Carlo), he was appointed director of the Opéra and during his tenure there he conducted an important revival of Méhul's Joseph, and gave his last concerts, with Tagliaferro and Ninon Vallin, one of his favourite sopranos, with whom he had recorded several of his own songs before the war.