In a ten-bar introduction for piano Fauré attempts to set up a dark atmosphere that will match the poet’s horror of encroaching autumn; the music encompasses weighty depression without expressing Baudelaire’s panic and revulsion. Only Duparc among the great French song composers can boast of complete success in setting this poet, and then with more judicious choices of text than this, and on only two occasions. The sforzato basses of the twelve-bar prelude are inspired by the ‘choc funèbre’ of the poem (which appeared in the second edition of Les fleurs du mal
, 1861); ‘bercé par ce choc monotone’ prompts the movement in quaver triplets that pervades the entire first section of the song. The clarity of summer has yielded to mist and darkness, both admirably present in the atmospheric accompaniment and the mournfully inflected vocal line. Baudelaire’s virulent second verse with its ‘hatred, ague and horror’ was suppressed by Fauré. Instead he invests the song’s fourth verse (the poet’s fifth and sixth are also omitted) with a change into the major key and triple time; this is perhaps the most lyrical, certainly the most suave, music for voice and piano he had written up to this time. Marcel Proust was enchanted by the long sinuous lines of ‘J’aime de vos longs yeux la lumière verdâtre’. For a moment we are in territory more familiar to this composer; we then realize that this declaration of love has been cruelly made only to be knocked down – the emerald light of the poet’s eyes is no match for the sunlight stolen by autumn. Fauré’s setting manfully contrives to make this disappointed comparison the triumphant peroration (‘rayonnant sur la mer’) of a love song. This mélodie is a magnificent failure – magnificent because it contains much beautiful music, a failure because Baudelaire could never be the ideal poet for Fauré’s temperament.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005