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Absence
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Perhaps the composition of this song has something to do with the death of Gautier and was composed in honour of the poet’s memory. It is one of two Bizet settings of the poet’s works dating from 1872 (the other is the duet La fuite, also set by Duparc in 1871). It is, of course, Berlioz’s song from Les nuits d’été which is the most famous setting of this lyric, and the comparison shows that Bizet felt the poem entirely differently. Bizet’s fluid and voluble setting uses six of Gautier’s eight verses, whereas Berlioz recasts the first verse of the poem as a recurring refrain and uses only two further strophes. Berlioz’s music is statuesque and elegiac; Bizet’s is passionately heartbroken with the opening melody in the piano suggestive of the cello section of a large orchestra, and a vocal line borne along by the slightly anonymous throbbing triplets typical of opera reductions. The flexibility and beauty of the tune (‘sempre senza rigore’) prophesies the seemingly effortless melodic invention of Carmen which was to appear only three years later.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998

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