Philippe Gille, librettist of Delibes’ Lakmé
, was another of Bizet’s collaborators. There is a puzzling, and unsubstantiated, mention of an opera entitled La prêtesse
composed to a Gille libretto as early as 1854, but he was certainly the author of Bizet’s opera Clarissa Harlowe
, sketched (and abandoned) at the time of the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune. As with Barbier, Gille’s services might have been enlisted to graft new words on to old tunes, but it seems possible that Pastel
is an excerpt from Clarissa Harlowe
. The music, a subdued little portrait aria (cf. Schumann’s duet Familien-Gemälde
), suits the intimacy of the mélodie extremely well, and the song has found favour on the recital platform with a number of singers. The accompaniment, careful and tasteful rather than inspired, seems stiffer and less pianistic than something which might have come from the composer’s own hand; it suggests a dutiful vocal-score reduction. This does not detract from the charm of a song-aria which depends on its slowly unfolding melody and touches of surprisingly modern harmony (note the sevenths in the central piano interlude) to make its hauntingly poetic effect.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998