Like every other French song composer of the time, Reynaldo was drawn to the poetry of Victor Hugo who relished the use of the most epic canvases both in his poetry and his novels. Like Goethe, Hugo was capable of small and unpretentious lyrics of the greatest tenderness, and his importance in the development of the mélodie cannot be over-estimated. Although Hahn placed Si mes vers avaient des ailes
as the second item in his first recueil
, it has become his motto song. The youthfulness of the composer (he was thirteen) makes its perfection seem all the more extraordinary. The distinguishing marks of Hahn’s style are all there: an accompaniment which undulates in the background like the slow unfurling of a skein of sumptuous material, a background of seemingly little import which nevertheless shapes the melody as if the accompanist wielded the lightest of hands on a potter’s wheel; a vocal line which is derived from the intimacy of speech but which contains in it the seeds of a wonderful melody truly to be sung; the use of unexpected intervals and cadences (the leaps are sometimes large) which transport us suddenly from a conversational tone in the middle of the stave to the swoon-inducing delight of a cunningly placed mezza voce. Right from the beginning Hahn was writing for singers who could cast sensual spells. Although the composer’s debts to Massenet are obvious, this music has a depth of feeling which that composer was seldom to attain in his songs.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996