There were five performances at the Odéon of Molière’s play in 1893 but it is not certain whether Fauré’s music was used. (It had become established practice to revamp the original incidental music of Lully from 1670, and even Gounod had attempted to modify this rather than replace it.) In 1898 Fauré recycled some music written on four staves from his incidental music (he had meant to orchestrate it later) and turned it into the beautiful Sicilienne
for cello and piano. The Sérénade
is the first music we hear in Act I Scene 2 of the play; it is part of the music lesson of the awful Monsieur Jourdain, the ‘bourgeois gentilhomme’ himself. He is attended by both the Maistre à Danser and the Maistre de Musique. The music master says that he wishes M. Jourdain to hear the serenade that he has required to be set to music – one of his pupils has fulfilled the commission. Effortlessly offensive, M. Jourdain (who believes he merits only the very best) asks why a mere pupil, rather than the master himself, has done the job. He then asks one of his footmen (or ‘Laquais’) for his robe in order, he says, to hear the music better.
Fauré reverts to his famous madrigal style for this little known song. Semiquavers sweep gently up the keyboard and the vocal line has a courtly grace that might suggest the seventeenth century, even if the harmony does not do so. The moment that most suggests time-travel in the song is to be heard in the final bars: a rising twelve-note vocalise leads up to an elegantly turned trill leading to the final cadence. Under the fingers the pianist cannot help noticing the Sérénade’s similarity to another 9/8 song with similar dotted rhythms, and in a similarly wistful mood, the Samain setting Arpège (1897). After the performance M. Jourdain judges the song to be ‘lugubre’; he requires the music master to brighten it up, a little bit here, a little bit there. The Maistre de Musique replies with a phrase that goes completely over M. Jourdain’s head: ‘Il faut, Monsieur, que l’air soit accommodé aux paroles’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005