Hyperion Records

Spleen, Op 51 No 3
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Here we must compare Fauré with Debussy. That composer’s song, the second of the Ariettes oubliées, is entitled ‘Il pleure dans mon cœur’ and was first published in 1888. There is no sign of Fauré being influenced by the younger man’s music which is still under the spell of Massenet, its wide-ranging vocal lines and sumptuous, swooning harmonies engineered to delight, rather than disturb, the listener. If Debussy’s music here suggests the hot-house of the ‘décadence’, Fauré goes for a darker and altogether more intense verismo mood. The songs of 1888 (the others are Au cimetière and Larmes) are cris du cœur, definitely not pastels. Both composers effectively evoke the falling of rain on the miserable lodgings that Verlaine shared with Rimbaud in Camden Town, north London, in the autumn of 1872. Debussy’s oscillations in thirds suggest a monotone drizzle; Fauré’s staccato semiquavers alternate closely between the hands. This pattering motif sometimes giving way to churning triplets, Fauré’s whole construction is undeniably tighter, more of a piece, than Debussy’s. The latter’s ‘Quoi! nulle trahison?’ is set as a recitative; with Fauré this desperate exclamation is kept within the song’s ongoing momentum, and sounds more frightened than lethargic. The diminuendo, as well as the freezing of the harmonic movement in the piano-writing after ‘Sans amour et sans haine’, speaks volumes. ‘Mon cœur a tant de peine’ is set to a downward scale, drained of its confidence; we can imagine the poet turning his face to the wall. The seven-bar postlude is undemonstrative in the manner of the depressed who are rendered helpless as they sink into the depths of despond.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005

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