This is among the most sensual and erotic, even decadent, of Fauré’s mélodies. Jankélévitch judges its self-consciousness as unworthy of the real Fauré, but the musical public has always adored its highly perfumed sumptuousness. If this suggests a seraglio draped in the opulent Parisian style of the 1880s, the zeitgeist is partly to blame: Huysmans’s À rebours
appeared alongside Leconte de Lisle’s Poèmes tragiques
in 1884. There is a unique undulation to this music that is partly created by a counter-melody, like a third voice, between the thumbs of the accompanist’s hands. This gait, leisurely and majestic, varied by occasional rhythmic displacements, suggests heavily loaded camels swaying across the desert sands (cf Chausson’s La caravane
, 1887). Every kind of rare perfume is for sale here, but nothing can match the fragrance of the absent Leilah. The song’s journey is suddenly interrupted by a personal aside: we had been expecting another appearance of the sinuous and hypnotic refrain (and indeed the song closes with this music), but with ‘Ô Leïlah!’ there is a sudden outburst; the lack of a preceding interlude makes it seem spontaneous, unplanned. This middle strophe alone, one of Fauré’s most heartfelt utterances, saves the song from relegation into the ranks of that overpopulated genre in French music, the oriental pastiche. The poem has six verses of which the composer sets 1,2, 4 and 6.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005