The frankness and vehemence of the song betokens a mid-life crisis. Dangerous though it is to equate musical creation with biography, one feels that Larmes
strikes so unusual a note in Fauré’s song oeuvre that some such connection must exist. At the age of forty-three he seems to have been tormented about the direction of his career, the state of his finances, and a marriage in which he was not happy. The poem is from the ‘Etant de quart’ section of Richepin’s La mer
. Wilhelm Müller’s Wasserflut
(set in Schubert’s Winterreise
) uses similar imagery for tears that turn into a river. The accompaniment is jagged and peremptory and the pianist brings forth heavy teardrops in accented crotchets that are sustained under the hands while quaver rests punctuate other layers of the accompaniment. This ingenious deployment of fingers provides an unusual texture where the piano sound is both snatched away and insistent, like a stifled sob. At ‘Moi, mon existence dépensée En vœux trahis’ we are reminded of the interaction between voice and piano in Chanson du pêcheur
. The pathos of ‘Une larme tombe’ followed two beats later by ‘puis une autre’ is that of a great French tragédien
pausing between phrases for effect. Yet the vocal line is a thing of shreds and patches, it never settles into a satisfying cantilena (appropriately enough), although it achieves a bitter heroism at the close. A slew of enharmonic progressions makes flats and sharps compete for the same harmonic space; the song’s complex orthography mirrors the emotional confusion and distress of its subject.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005