The six Verlaine songs published in 1903 as Ariettes oubliées
were revisions of originals composed between 1885 and 1887. The dedication of the 1903 edition to Mary Garden, ‘unforgettable Mélisande’, did not necessarily mean that the changes Debussy made were designed for her voice, more likely that they merely reflected his experience as a composer. The two earliest songs, L’ombre des arbres
and Chevaux de bois
, date originally from January 1885, when the composer was about to leave Paris, and his mistress, for a lengthy stay in Rome, and possibly the disenchantment of the first song mirrored his own sentiments. Likewise, he is saying goodbye in Chevaux de bois
to the friendly bustle of Paris, and the wonderful coda with its tolling bell again may have had a personal resonance (in the 1903 revision the final bell, with its descending fourth, is now syncopated, adding immeasurably to its poetic force). Elsewhere Debussy indulges in ecstasy, in the monotony of rain, in a wonderfully fresh and seductive love song, Green
, in which the agile vocal line at last settles on a series of low repeated notes as the lover too settles on his beloved’s breast, and finally, pre-echoing the Wagnerian Baudelaire songs, in a song of heartbreak, where all depends on the final ‘hélas!’, placed with apparent insouciance in the middle of a phrase, leaving the piano to pick up the pieces.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2012