This is Fauré’s first setting of Armand Silvestre. The poem appears in Les ailes d’or
(1880) in a sub-section entitled ‘Vers pour être chantés’. The date of the collection shows that Fauré either found the poem in a newspaper or periodical, or was in touch with the poet himself. Le voyageur
is by no means typical of the Silvestre settings which are known for their grace and easy charm. This is a vehement song, brusque and tinged with what Jankélévitch calls ‘un certain air de fraternité’. (The original key of A minor – later moderated to G minor in Hamelle – is high enough to sound almost hysterically dramatic.) An English equivalent of this music may be Vaughan Williams’s ‘The Vagabond’ from his Songs of Travel
; misanthropy and disdain for his fellow human beings hover beneath the surface of the traveller’s psyche. Fauré is sometimes in the mood to be as robust as this (consider the song Larmes
, or the opening movement of the first Cello Sonata, Op 109). In the outer sections of the song the accompaniment is in accented crotchets: a dotted rhythm on the first beat resounds through the entire bar like the tolling of a bell, the vocal line roams the stave with manly determination. The imagery of verse 3, where a star sets towards the horizon, inspires the song’s great musical surprise. The vocal line is marked dolce
and is suddenly muted and contained: the texture of the accompaniment is different from anything that has gone before. In fact this extraordinary passage, banished by a return of the louder music of the opening after eighteen bars, would not have seemed out of place in a late work like Mirages
– a prophetic glimpse of a style-to-come.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005