A charming bit of fun this, devilishly difficult to play with its leaping basses and chords which take unexpected harmonic directions. The song has not been published and is one of the undated pieces of the composer’s juvenilia in the Bibliothèque Nationale. (It is titled simply as Chanson
on the manuscript.) Both César Franck and Liszt set this poem to music with a greater sense of tenderness and romance. A certain sanctimonious quality (some of Hugo’s lyrics brought this out in his composers) sets in with both these masters’ work, but it is mercifully lacking here. The idea of ‘soul uniting with soul’ has not touched Saint-Saëns to any great degree, but the music is fun, having the feeling of a galop, with more than a touch of Offenbach to it. If anything, one is reminded of the deliberately iconoclastic setting of Poulenc’s Air Vif
where the lofty Parnassian poetry of Moréas is wickedly sent up to delicious effect. Saint-Saëns means nothing so disrespectful here, but the ‘charmant gazon’ is certainly transferred from the Elysian Fields of the spirit to the Champs Elysées.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997