Hyperion Records

Les présents, Op 46 No 1
The poem is from the Contes cruels by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, one of the cult books of the period, and published in 1883. The overwhelmingly larger part of the collection is prose; on page 302, under the heading Conte d’amour, there are seven poems. Léon Boëllmann (the arranger of Shylock, see below) set them all as a cycle. Fauré set the first (Éblouissement) as Nocturne; Chausson set the second, L’aveu; Les présents is the third. The song is dedicated to the great aesthete of the period, Comte Robert de Montesquiou (his portrait by Whistler graces the recital room of the Frick Museum in New York). Montesquiou, one of Fauré’s conduits to Verlaine, was close to other circles of artists, Mallarmé and Proust, who figure only on the edge of Fauré’s biography; this reminds us of how broad and varied the cultural life of Paris was at the time. Jankélévitch remarks on the ‘charmante morbidezza’ of this song with its alternation between F major and A flat major in its opening bars. In some ways this berceuse is a variant of Le secret, but the music is rarefied and self-conscious, less heartfelt and more world-weary, with all the languor of the décadence. The obsessive nature of a text redolent of Huysmans’s À rebours is reflected in the way that after every chromatic excursion, no matter how exotic, the music returns in circular fashion to F major. These modulations, employing all the cleverness of the composer’s enharmonic resources, are particularly ingenious at ‘Je t’apporterai des colombes!’ – this image reminds one of the Lord Berners whose pigeons, in the park of Faringdon House, were dyed different pastel colours. At the end of the song, the intrusion of an F sharp in the fifth and third bars from the end attempts to pull the music into G major, but to no avail. The effect of the whole song seems to be a futile attempt to escape depression of a ‘cœur malade’ – flights of imaginative fancy are drawn back again and again to the doleful, velvet-lined reaches of the home key. It is perhaps in a song like this that the art of Fauré, and that of Debussy, are nearer than they had ever been, or were ever to be in the future.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005

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