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Le jardin clos, Op 106
July–November 1914
author of text

'Fauré: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2 – Un paysage choisi' (CDA67334)
Fauré: The Complete Songs, Vol. 2 – Un paysage choisi
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No 1: Exaucement  Alors qu’en tes mains de lumière
No 2: Quand tu plonges tes yeux dans mes yeux
No 3: La messagère  Avril, et c’est le point du jour
No 4: Je me poserai sur ton cœur
No 5: Dans la nymphée  Quoique tes yeux ne la voient pas
No 6: Dans la pénombre  À quoi, dans ce matin d’avril
No 7: Il m'est cher, Amour, le bandeau
No 8: Inscription sur le sable  Toute, avec sa robe et ses fleurs

Le jardin clos, Op 106
Fauré had set ten poems from the La chanson d’Ève of Charles Van Lerberghe in 1906. This great cycle seems to be Fauré’s quiet, but mighty, riposte to the overwhelming challenge of Debussy’s music and ethic. These two great composers had Verlaine in common, but between them there had always been a wide divergence of literary, and other, tastes. It is curious, therefore, that they looked to different members of the same group of Belgian writers for the symbolism which was to define the great works of their maturity – Debussy to Maeterlinck for Pelléas et Mélisande, and Fauré to Van Lerberghe for two song cycles, La chanson d’Ève and Le jardin clos (this later cycle, composed in 1914, is in fact based on an earlier work by Van Leberghe from 1898). The two Belgian poets were closely linked in terms of their lives and work, but Maeterlinck led Debussy to his opera, a story full of atmosphere and drama, and Van Lerberghe gave Fauré a kind of pre-Raphaelite language of idealized feminine beauty and grace where the mysterious imagery discourages a story-line. (There is perhaps a narrative of a kind in La chanson d’Ève, none at all in Le jardin clos.) This poetry achieves, thanks to Fauré’s music of course, a cosmic depth of utterance. Without Fauré the poetry of Van Lerberghe, in the harsh light of a less perfumed century, can seem dated and mannered; but it was the catalyst that released in the ageing composer a new and powerful vein of lyricism.

La chanson d’Ève led to the use of a new expressive vocabulary in Fauré’s opera Pénélope, a work which engaged his attentions for many years, and which was first performed in 1913. Le jardin clos, a work written on the threshold of the First World War, is the beneficiary of the refining fire through which the composer passed in the process of working on his opera. Both cycles were written for a woman’s voice; both cycles encompassed a tribute to the mystery of the eternal feminine. This is music written by a man who all his life had been a passionate, yet discreet, lover of women. The distanced eroticism of Le jardin clos seems a leave-taking – still passionate, ever discreet, but a valediction nevertheless.

At this time in his life the composer was suffering from tinnitus and hearing problems: both low and high registers were distorted, only the middle remaining clear. This is often given as a reason for the restricted range of both the vocal line and the piano-writing in the late cycles. It is clear that practical considerations played their part in the evolution of the works, but the phlegmatic style of vocal-writing, sparing in its intervals but melodically memorable and capable of huge emotion, seems a natural evolution from the earlier songs of the third period. In this music there is never a sense of straightened circumstances changing the organic nature of artistic development. The texts for the cycle are taken from Van Lerberghe’s Entrevisions. In this work ‘Le jardin clos’ is a subsection, but in fact only songs vii, iv, ii are to be found in this part of the work. Fauré has allowed himself to choose freely from the remainder of Entrevisions for the other poems contained under the enigmatic sub-headings ‘Jeux et songes’ and ‘Sous le portique’. Needless to say the thematic links between the texts that one might expect in this cycle, a walled garden for instance, are very nebulous.

If the cycle does not achieve the cosmic grandeur of La chanson d’Ève (it is in any case shorter), it is a more perfect work; indeed, it is one of the great masterpieces in all French music. Le jardin clos is still underestimated, a mystery to many, and it remains necessary for enthusiasts to convince the sceptical. Perhaps the tunefulness of his early years led the public to expect something different; one feels that the composer has long been punished for his change of style as a kind of betrayal of his early willingness to please. In some ways Webern’s songs, contemporary with this cycle, have met less resistance in the concert hall. Perhaps it would be easier if we simply admitted that Gabriel Fauré, the inaccurately dubbed ‘Master of Charms’, was an avant-garde composer in his own way.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005

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Details for CDA67334 track 23
La messagère
Recording date
4 August 2004
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
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