The 6/8 rhythm sounds like a waltz to the innocent ear; there is a catchiness to this music and a very Parisian atmosphere. Of all Fauré’s mélodies it is this which most captures a mood of popular song. There is a touch of Poulencian cross-over here (one thinks of that composer’s La grenouillère
) but Tristesse
was written some twenty, or even thirty, years too early for any link with cabaret to be intentional. Nevertheless, one might easily imagine an accordion accompaniment, the refrain which ends each strophe (‘Hélas! j’ai dans le cœur une tristesse affreuse’) sung by Trénet or Piaf, the guttural ‘r’ in ‘affreuse’ rolled deep in the throat. Nectoux refers to the ‘painful melodrama’ of this phrase, and it is true that music like this, relentlessly accented by the down-beats of the accompaniment, falls short of the Fauréan ideal of understatement and restraint. The poem’s provenance is exalted – Gautier’s seminal La comédie de la mort
(1838), a work which pre-dates the grands boulevards which the words seem to describe, and also the source of Berlioz’s Les nuits d’été
. It is thus a surprise to find the composer treating the prosody with such casualness: one need go no further than the very first word (‘Avril’) to encounter the musical accent on the first, rather than the second, syllable. This displacement further creates an impression of Parisian nonchalance, as do references to drinkers with their ‘chansons vermeilles’, and girls in ‘scanty white dresses’. Fauré again gets away with the introduction of the word ‘chien’ into his music.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005