The famous librettist Barbier was one of the dignitaries who gave a speech at Bizet’s funeral, so it is hardly surprising that he, like Mendès, was brought into the 1886 project of providing new words for the songs (really opera fragments) of the second recueil. (Barbier had certainly performed a similar task for Gounod when he provided French words for quite a number of songs that the composer had written in English. It had suited Gounod to sever all connections with his English publishers in the 1870s, so many a lyric by Shelley or Longfellow is credited as being by Barbier in that composer’s mélodies.) On the other hand, Barbier was also old enough to have been the co-librettist of Bizet’s early opera La guzla de l’émir
(1862), and it seems possible that La chanson de la rose
was part of that work and allowed to keep its original words. It is an elegant little song, deft and almost neo-Classical in the economy of its part-writing; if its sophistication and lightness of touch would seem to suggest a later date than 1862, we have to remind ourselves that this composer was extremely precocious, and the exquisite Symphony in C was written as early as 1855. The piano writing suggests an orchestration of flutes, oboes and clarinets backed up by gentle strings. All this falls gratefully beneath the pianist’s fingers however, rather too deftly and authentically to suggest someone else’s arrangement of an orchestral score. Of the songs in the second recueil, this seems the happiest addition to the mélodie repertoire.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998