The first word of this enchanting barcarolle (in 6/8 of course) is ‘Murmure’ and the gently rocking accompaniment is as good as the poet’s word – the semiquaver water music lapping and undulating in an aquatic equivalent of a lover’s murmured endearments. The song was originally conceived for the young tenor Victor Capoul (a recording exists of him singing the Berceuse
from Godard’s Jocelyn
). Capoul was part of the original cast of Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette
which was prepared under Bizet’s supervision, and from this song we must assume that he had an exquisite command of both mezza voce and coloratura. The composer reduces Lamartine’s poem from eighteen to three verses without much scruple, and it must be admitted we do not notice the butchery, so charming is the music and so hypnotic is the use of a tonic pedal device (there is a shift to the dominant, another long pedal point, only on the song’s third page). The composer’s mastery of long-spanned harmonic structures such as these is a sure sign of a musical brain used to planning dramatic tension over an entire operatic act. We can detect the influence of Gounod, and Berlioz too (Sur les lagunes
), but the water glows luminously under Bizet’s own inimitable stage lighting.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998