At this time the public could not get enough of the songs of Massenet. His ‘affected listlessness’ (Noske) is here emulated by Fauré, as it was to be copied by Debussy in the early 1880s. A languid little vocal melody, almost parlando, is borne along by gently undulating semiquavers that, in true Massenet fashion, owe something to Schumann’s Dichterliebe
. The first two strophes are identical, but the vocal line of the third is tinged by the major key and becomes gradually animated (via throbbing syncopations in the bass). There is a forte climax on the third page (more suited to the musical structure than the words) where desperation, and the singer’s top, are simultaneously revealed. A decrescendo and coda return to gentle ennui. Years later, Reynaldo Hahn, pupil of Massenet, loved to write songs like this where a change in the final strophe (often an exquisite pay-off) crowns an expanse of murmuring inactivity (L’heure exquise
). Fauré, however, quickly moved away from a formula that sounds fin de siècle before its time.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005