Fauré read Albert Samain’s collection of poems entitled Au jardin de l’infante
on the strong recommendation of Emma Bardac, a fine singer, his mistress for a time and dedicatee of La bonne chanson
(not to mention the future second wife of Debussy). The first fruit of this discovery of a new poet was Soir
, composed in 1894. This remarkable duet followed two years later. The title of Samain’s poem is Larmes
, but Fauré had already given this title to the Richepin setting. He omits the poet’s last three lines that are even more highly perfumed than the rest of the poem. The flowing triplets of this 12/8 Andante quasi allegretto suggest the flow of water music, but this is water, almost holy water, in a state of suspension. Off-the-beat crotchets in the accompaniment are distilled drop by drop – mezzo staccato dew on the rose-petalled surface of the music. These golden tears are turned into something audible in the sounds of different kinds of bell and of veiled flutes; they are transfigured as pinpricks of stars in the heavens. There is a luxurious sensuality in this music; the entwined vocal lines swoon as if responding to a caress, a touch of Massenet perhaps. The sentiment of the work is that of the second period; the harmonic progressions are recherché without having embraced the pudeur of the third period. The composer would soon retreat from this opulence which, even in his skilful hands, threatens to cloy. The duet was first published by the British firm of Metzler; its first performance was in London at a time when Fauré and his music were exceedingly popular in the English capital.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005