This is Fauré’s farewell to Leconte de Lisle, the song composed forty-five years after the poem was written. The setting is an intimation of things to come, the style of the late song cycles and the final period; the dedication of this other-worldly song to the urbane Paolo Tosti seems almost ironic. The opening bar is the mezzo staccato chord of a tenth shared between left hand and right, thrice repeated – nothing more. The articulation is a preparation for the way in which rare and recherché harmonies will be measured out ‘goutte à goutte’ (‘drop by drop’) by the composer–alchemist. As soon as the voice enters in the second bar we begin a musical journey that scarcely pauses for breath – the progress is unhurried but ineluctable, as if the singer were on a ‘high’, intoxicated by an exquisite substance with a drug-like effect. This morbidity, also known as unrequited love, is at the heart of the song’s mournful ecstasy. The constant returning to the home key at important cadences acknowledges the presence of the perfume’s bass-note, all the peripheral harmonies a variation on this obsessive, predominant aroma. The piano’s only function is to support the voice; any pianist who comes to this song for the first time is astonished at just how many side-steps, back-steps and half-steps are available to the fingers as they ceaselessly pivot from one astonishing harmony to the next. The large stretches in the left hand suggest the strumming of a guitar or perhaps an oriental harp. Is the exotic sweep of these chords part of the composer’s response to a poem that evokes the roses of Lahore?
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005