There has never been any slur on Mme Deguingand’s virtue. If Fleur des blés
was an attempt on this, it seems to have failed. But Marie Vasnier, a striking redhead with green eyes and a high, agile soprano voice, returned Debussy’s interest and they were lovers for some years, Debussy treating the Vasnier household as a second home and profiting at least to some extent from M. Vasnier’s advice on the advisability of working hard and obeying rules. Sometime after February 1884 Debussy made a manuscript collection of thirteen of the songs he had written for Marie, now known as the ‘Vasnier Songbook’ and housed in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Voici que le printemps
, written in January 1884, and Mandoline
, written on 25 November 1882 in Vienna, are the eleventh and third songs in the book. In the first of these Debussy is clearly freeing himself from the constraint of strophic setting. The second stanza begins in the same way as the first but continues differently, while the two final ones are through-composed, the start of the fourth one being heavily disguised. Harmonically there are no great revolutions here, but the line ‘Ouvrent leurs yeux où flotte une ombre vague et tendre’ is set to the sort of static harmony that was later to get Debussy into trouble with the professors. As for the general sentiment of Bourget’s poem, it is exactly what Chabrier was to complain about in a letter to his publishers of 29 June 1889—incidentally the only known reference by Chabrier to Debussy:
What I don’t want as texts are those blobs of mucus in which love exists as the buds are opening or during April and May; let’s give those two months of the year a rest—they’re exhausted, in my view, as are the little flowers in the garden … Lately, and as always set in April, May, flowers of the fields and all that tosh, young Bordes, Chausson, Marty, Bréville, Hüe, Debussy etc. have been writing music that is recondite, clever, but rather tormented, often melancholy, weepy and disillusioned. When a singer delivers that sort of thing in the salons, you get the impression they’re burying the devil or giving the audience the last rites.
from notes by Roger Nichols © 2003