Here is another song, this time from 1872, which suggests the salon, although this time it is more of its own epoch. It is as if Saint-Saëns has glanced at the Cinq Mélodies
published by Duparc in 1868 (the fourth of these, Chanson triste
, uses the same text and was destined to become one of the most famous of songs) and decided to be different as a matter of principle. (Duparc, by the way, attributes the poem to Jean Lahor, the pen-name for the writer whom Saint-Saëns acknowledges on his title-page as Henri Cazalis.) How masterfully Duparc weaves these words into a silken thread of running semiquavers and a vocal line of infinite grace. On the other hand Saint-Saëns opts for a more static approach, admirably economical and telling, with much of the text sung beneath held chords, a tactic which gives the singer a certain freedom to tell the story untrammelled by the piano. Much of the song’s effectiveness comes from a chain of exquisite modulations; indeed at times the song seems unanchored in any key. In a strange way, and exactly contrary to the historical facts, there is more of a Franckian feeling to this song than we find in Duparc’s masterpiece.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997