In the course of his researches into eighteenth-century opera (he was an expert particularly on the works of Rameau) Saint-Saëns probably unearthed this text from the libretto of a little-known opera. It seems a curious choice for a song composed in 1900, and unlike various other settings of seventeenth-century poets there is no attempt here to colour the harmonie language with a suggestion of archaic old-world charm. This is rather an experimental song, seemingly conservative, but containing certain harmonie twists which show that the composer has acknowledged, however unwillingly, that he has entered the twentieth century. Saint-Saëns was a champion of Richard Strauss in this period of his life, and in 1899, a year before this song appeared, Strauss had published a group of songs which included the celebrated Wiegenlied. The pianist, once he has thought of this connection, is on familiar ground, for this seems to be a homage to Strauss, modelled on the rippling demisemiquavers in 3/4 of Wiegenlied
, with a similarly sumptuous seraphic vocal line afloat above the piano. If this song is not quite as memorable as its famous model, it has a flavour that one will not find elsewhere in the mélodie. It is a genuine attempt by Saint-Saëns to write a song in Lieder fashion where an incessantly repetitive figuration binds the work together—the calm and spacious melody all the more hypnotic because of the gentle undulations in the accompaniment beneath it.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997