This was among the six songs that Fauré, while still enrolled as a pupil at the École Niedermeyer under the tutelage of Saint-Saëns, offered to the publisher Choudens as early as 1864. These were all to Hugo texts: Le papillon et la fleur
, S’il est un charmant gazon
(which bears the title Rêve d’amour
), Puisqu’ici-bas toute âme
(a solo version of the song we know today only as a duet), L’aube naît
and Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre
. This publishing venture came to nothing, although the great poet (still in exile) was consulted over his expectations for prospective royalties. L’aube naît
has disappeared entirely; not even a sketch remains. Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre
, however, has survived in a particularly handsome autograph, a testament to Fauré’s fastidious penmanship at the age of seventeen. This song has never been published, and I am extremely grateful to M. Thierry Bodin for allowing me access to the manuscript in his possession. The heading is ‘Poésie de Victor Hugo, mise en musique par Gabriel Fauré’. The poet himself gave this lyric no title (it was published simply as No XXV of Hugo’s Les chants du crépuscule
, 1835); perhaps the young composer thought it inappropriate or cheeky to adopt the rather erotic first line of the poem as his title.
In 1910 Fauré confessed that he had never set Hugo successfully. Even if this is the case by the composer’s own highest standards, it is difficult to see why the composer thought that Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre was less worth publishing than, say, his Rêve d’amour. In the middle of the song one might point out a slightly awkward corner (at the end of the music for verse 3, and the first few lines of verse 4). If the musical transitions here are less than ideally smooth, these small flaws are surely outweighed by the elegance of the accompaniment (an early essay in the madrigal style with left-hand staccati suggesting a plucked lute) and the graceful vocal line which encourages a tenor to charm the ear with his mezza voce. The cool poise of Fauré’s song announces a madrigal style that was to be revisited for the rest of his career. The swooning eroticism of Reynaldo Hahn’s setting of the same words (in his second recueil) suggests a lover almost drunk with rapture. This may be true to Hugo, but it is not Fauré’s temperament, and as he got older he realized how much happier he was with less fiery collaborators.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005