The very opening word ‘Nous’ suggests a duet, and one should perhaps not be amazed that Chausson was as skilled as he proved to be in writing for the medium. This is yielding music of mellifluous charm, accompanying semiquavers (and later quavers) spiral downwards to denote sunset and repose. The vocal line is all wafting euphony, often in thirds between the two singers and containing pleasing touches of imitative counterpoint. The key is a soft and unctuous A flat major which moves through various chromatic stages (the second verse begins in G minor) until the opening melody is restated in A major. For this Chausson inserts another appearance of the poem’s two opening lines. The return to A flat major/minor (at the beginning of the third verse—‘Pale songeur qu’un Dieu poursuit’) is accomplished by a swooning pivotal modulation; the semitone slip from one key into the other creates a mood of luxe, calme et volupté, narrowly voiding sentimentality. At the end of the song there is a momentary shift into E major which plays with the enharmonic relationship between G sharp and A flat. This duet is one of Chausson’s most Franckian compositions; the opening verb ‘nous bénissons’ is the key to its seraphic atmosphere—secular music with a whiff of incense.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2001
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