The other evening, while improvising an entry for my Piano Diary, I found myself drawn to playing the melody from 'Can't Help Falling In Love' - and so had fun improvising around that famous tune, instead. As you may be aware, the Elvis Presley song from 1961 is actually based on a much older melody, 'Plaisir d'Amour'. I had this musical fact seated somewhere at the back of my mind, but I had never taken the time to investigate who actually wrote the melody. His name was Jean-Paul-Égide Martini, and as coincidence would have it, today is his birthday.
Martini was born Johann Paul Aegidius Schwarzendorf on 31 August 1741, but took the name Martini after leaving his native Germany for France. It seems he became an influential and successful composer, mainly of opera and indeed chanson - and that 'Plaisir d'Amour' was a song (or 'vocal romance', as it was more attractively titled at the time) written in 1784. Long before Elvis Presley got his hands on the melody, it seems The Pleasure of Love was a huge hit. Berlioz made an arrangement of it, and apparently Lamartine had it sung to him during one of his cures.
As we would expect, several piano transcriptions were made of the song. Transcriptions were a popular vehicle for musicians, especially in the early nineteenth-century. For pianist-composers like Liszt and Thalberg, performing dazzling interpretations of famous contemporary melodies was a mainstay of their careers, and similarly for operatic composers, having their most popular melodies released as piano versions meant accessing much wider audiences and, ultimately, making more money. The pop business perhaps hasn't changed all that much since 1784. The wonderful music resource that is IMSLP makes it easy to access free sheet music for some of the transcriptions of Plaisir d'Amour, and my favourite so far is that by the famous pianist-composer Cramer. Recordings seem harder to come by, but I have found one performed by Philippe Coulange. Today, in celebration of Martini's birthday, let's dig-out some of these transcriptions and put a bit of romance into our day. There's something oddly satisfying about knowing that when it comes to the pleasure of love, time doesn't really change anything.