Saint-Saëns was nothing if not aware of the popular market. From time to time (not often, for he is not nearly so obliging as Massenet) he writes a piece which is meant to capture the mood of the times, and to provide the public with what it wants. There is something of this accommodation in Aimons-nous et dormons
, and Saint-Saëns’ reversion to the noble style of Gounod’s Lamartine settings (a vocal line unfolding over seraphically-repeated crotchets) seems a strange reversion to a Second Empire musical manner as late as 1892. There is even a suggestion of Lisztian elaboration in the way that the same musical phrases are repeated with ever more ornate accompaniment. The fact that it is among the composer’s most popular songs is merely confirmation of the fact that the plush chromatic style (the vocal line is made up of soulfully descending semitones) was a hit with the public. Despite his insistence that he was a classicist, Saint-Saëns was a man of his time, subject to a nineteenth-century enthusiasm for slightly ‘actory’ sublimity.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997