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|Graham Johnson (piano), John Mark Ainsley (tenor)|
The inspiration for this song, and for Sérénade toscane, probably came from Pauline Viardot’s settings of Tuscan folk poetry. One wonders whether Fauré composed the Italian original of this song before Romain Bussine, a baritone friend of the composer, later a singing teacher at the Conservatoire, appended French words which are scarcely a translation of the original. The poetic source is Niccolo Tommaseo’s Canti popolari (Venice, 1841): No 11 of the section entitled ‘Fine della Serenata’ begins thus:
Levati, sol che la luna è levata;
Fauré’s ascending phrase at the beginning of the vocal line is a more logical fit for the rising sun of ‘Levati, sol’ than for ‘Dans un sommeil’. Neither Italian nor French version is convincing in terms of prosody, probably as a result of the compromises involved in making a bilingual edition of the song. If Bussine made the French version before Fauré began to compose, and the composer conceived his music for the French text, it is a miracle that the Italian, included in the song’s first edition, also fitted the music. (In preparing the French lyric Bussine seems to have relied more on Tommaseo’s footnote to ‘Levati, sol’ than on the Italian poem itself.) Fauré’s cantilena is a cornucopia of melodic plenty: the music unfolds organically from beginning to end, each phrase leading ineluctably to the next, an endless flowering. This in turn is supported by seemingly inevitable harmonies, but Fauré’s popular touch masks the greatest subtlety. Pau Casals’ instantly famous version of the piece for cello and piano (1910) proved how easily a tune like this can become a song without words.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005
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