This is a convincing piece of ‘modern’ Saint-Saëns, perhaps because it dates from 1912 when the composer was in full command of his faculties and was, whether he liked it or not, influenced by his pupil Fauré. It is the one setting that we have from this composer of a lyric by Paul Verlaine, so much the poet of Debussy and Fauré. The title almost perversely disguises the fact that this is a setting of the celebrated ‘C'est l'extase langoureuse’. Debussy wrote a song to this poem which stands at the opening of his Ariettes oubliées
. A few years later Fauré, in a completely différent manner, used the poem to close his cycle entitled Cinq Mélodies de Venise
. Both songs are masterpieces, and we would not be without either. When Saint-Saëns cornes to set the poem he takes its title from the motto phrase by Favart which Verlaine prints above the poem: ‘Le vent dans la plaine / Suspend son haleine’. He then proceeds to cut the text to eradicate the embarrassing references to the poet’s post-coital disquiet in the arms of Rimbaud. Perhaps these were too near the bone. The incessant semiquavers passing through a series of harmonic complexities are reminiscent of Nell
, though here and there are also strong echoes of the inscrutable composer of La Chanson d’Ève
and Le jardin clos
. In any case what we have here is a genuinely new type of song for Saint-Saëns, without a trace of stylisation and pastiche, and courting no easy public.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997