succeeds where Hymne
does not, simply because Paul de Choudens, an unpublished amateur poet, was no Baudelaire. (He was also a recently appointed partner in his father’s music publishing business.) The text makes no demands beyond the conventions of a young man using flowery language in which to salute his paramour of the moment. It is a beautifully crafted song with deft piano writing that lies ‘just so’ under the hands. Any pianist, having mastered the fingering, will acknowledge the pleasure of playing the gently rising figurations first encountered in bars 3 to 4; to reach the tonic chord with some delicacy after traversing a small thicket of sharps and flats in contrary motion is like executing a complicated embroidery stitch, or potting the black in a game of snooker. This is music for the salon, and it has the salon’s light touch; the incessant semiquavers of the accompaniment suggest the fluttering of butterflies’ wings. Fauré referred to the song as a ‘labour of Hercules’ because it was written to spur Choudens père et fils
into the swift publication of Fauré’s first recueil
of mélodies (this suggests the politically astute Saint-Saëns plotting in the background on behalf of his protégé). The strain does not show. A fine singer can make much of the gentle undulations of the vocal line, and the ease with which the music unfolds belies the composer’s skill in tonal manipulation. The piece is an example of Fauré’s mastery in writing an eloquent, yet economical, bass (as in bars 34 to 39) that steers the progress of the music like a rudder. The style of Massenet (no friend of Fauré) comes to mind, not least because there is a belle époque languor in this music which co-exists with its ardour. Too often one hears this song as an unmoderated Allegro; it should encompass both the industry and the laziness of a gently buzzing bee. ‘Tes yeux brillants et langoureux’, says the poet.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005