Albert Samain’s collection Au jardin de l’Infante
(1893) was given to the composer by his mistress Emma Bardac, the singer who had been the dedicatee of La bonne chanson
earlier in 1894. Following on from the poem Larmes
(which Fauré set as the duet Pleurs d’or
has nine strophes of which the composer selected the last three. The form is ABA broadly speaking, but like the great modified strophic songs at the end of Schubert’s life nothing is taken for granted – the music is continually rethought and newly invented. The accompaniment for this nocturne begins modestly in simple semiquavers (like Verlaine’s En sourdine
), flowers into almost dizzying complexity in the second strophe, and deftly returns to a single stave at the beginning of the third (the ardent harmonic subtleties leading to this last transition are simply miraculous). In another Verlaine setting, C’est l’extase
(1891), we have heard ‘le frêle et frais murmure’ of nature; musical imagery for almost inaudible sound returns in Soir, set off by the words ‘entends-tu pas quelque chose mourir?’. In both cases a delicate descant to the vocal line is traced in the little finger of the right hand; this is supported by off-beat mezzo staccato harmonies that change constantly, glinting and palpitating. This is a kind of musical pointillism, prickly in close-up, but blurring into a marvellously glowing picture from a distance. The final bars (‘si tristes et si doux’ followed by the postlude) encapsulate both the depth and economy of Fauréan expressiveness.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005