Hyperion Records

Les berceaux, Op 23 No 1
This song was composed four years after Au bord de l’eau to a text by the same poet. This appears in Sully-Prudhomme’s Stances et poèmes (1865) where it has the title Le long du quai les grands vaisseaux. The theme of the poem is ‘Men must work, and women must weep’, a play of words and thoughts between the vessels (‘vaisseaux’) in which sailors go off to sea, and the smaller yet similarly shaped cradles (‘berceaux’) in which mothers nurse the children who may never know their fathers. Fauré has written a combination of a berceuse and a barcarolle in the key of B flat minor, one of his very special tonalities. At first the song seems suitably intimate for the rocking of cradles (the accompaniment in triplets undulating between the hands is a masterful invention); in the climactic central section (‘Tentent les horizons qui leurrent’) the music takes on a heightened dramatic tone rare in this composer’s mélodies – we suddenly hear the heartbreak of the women left behind, as well as their anger at the sea, the sailors’ perpetual mistress. This explosion of feeling subsides as suddenly as it has occurred. The vocal range of the song encompasses an amazing 13th, from low A flat to high F. It is a measure of Fauré’s control of his means at the time (his so-called second period) that he avoids any sense of helter-skelter contrast between the women at home and the men on the ocean wave. Everything is skilfully managed with poise, including a remarkably concise, and superbly effective, transition into the poem’s third strophe. The moto perpetuo which is this haunting mélodie seems an unconscious echo of Whitman’s contemporary words: ‘Out of the cradle endlessly rocking … the musical shuttle … A reminiscence sing.’

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005

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