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Le papillon et la fleur, Op 1 No 1  
Title page of the autograph of Le papillon et la fleur. The drawing was added by Camille Saint-Saëns; the temporary reversal of Hugo’s title is Fauré’s own.

Le papillon et la fleur, Op 1 No 1
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Fauré begins his song-writing career with a pianistic carte de visite. A ritornello is launched with élan (one ascending C major scale, then another – a musical commonplace adapted for lepidopteran acrobatics) followed by sequences that spiral downwards in waltz rhythm. The song is usually chattered in a fast tempo (and in a bright D major transposition) that emphasizes its glittering superficiality. In the lower, original, key there is room for a touch of sadness and vulnerability; we can see a lovesick teenager rooted to the spot and not yet able to quench the thirsts of adolescence. The cover of the autograph (where the composer takes more pains in the penmanship of the title, La fleur et le papillon, than in the setting’s prosody) contains an amusing sketch of a flower with tiny arms looking up to a hovering butterfly wearing a crown. This was drawn by Saint-Saëns, Fauré’s teacher at the École Niedermeyer, who was clearly bemused by his pupil’s achievement. The poem, No XXVII in Hugo’s Chants du crépuscule has no title in the first edition. Perhaps the composer knew the text from Henri Reber’s modest setting of 1847.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005

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