Both Saint-Saëns and Bizet set this poem in 1868, but it is Bizet’s setting which is famous (in as much as mélodies by Bizet could ever claim to be well known, more’s the pity). Bizet feels very sorry for the young man and gives him a role to play which makes him as sympathetic as Vašek in The Bartered Bride
. Saint-Saëns on the other hand cannot suffer fools gladly. He is happy to see the young man utterly at a loss, and he gives some of the most piquant music to the scornful insect. It would not take a great psychiatrist to work out which of the two composers was more sympathetic to the world of romance and courtship. But what is delightful about the Saint-Saëns song is its economy, and how it tells the story simply and amusingly. The accompaniment is a model of clarity in a manner which is utterly suitable for a little fable-cum-parable of this sort. The expression ‘Bête au bon dieu’ is another name for a ladybird, and one suspects that Hugo has set-up the whole of this incident to make a somewhat laboured pun on this fact.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997