Le temps des roses
(1886) was written when Gounod was 67. He had long since ceased to be an important force in French music—rather was he a relic of the past, the vanished world of the Second Empire. It is interesting however to note that he has not lost his old knack of seeming to prophesy the direction in which the mélodie was to move. This music, subtle in its harmonic shifts, is charmingly antiquated in its deliberate madrigal style summoning up the lute-accompanied cultivated felicities of previous centuries. This music was written a short time before the Fauré/Verlaine collaborations of Clair de lune
. The latter song particularly is strongly foretold (five years before its composition) in the way the piano writing, dancing with great insouciance between left hand and right, supports a vocal line of courtly grace. Fauré’s achievement in Mandoline
is the greater of course because he has absorbed the delicately evocative world of Paul Verlaine’s translation into verse of Watteau’s Fêtes galantes
. Since his youthful forays into Gautier and Lamartine, Gounod has forgotten the joys of discovering the best new verse by his contemporary poets. However, this mélodie shows us how the wily old creator was still able to write a wonderfully effective song while nodding, if not bowing, to his younger musical contemporaries. Gounod’s special poet was Lamartine; in the absence of such collaboration later in his life, the composer here seems to foretell the harmonic vocabulary and musical manner of someone who owes him much more than first strikes the ear. But it is not only Fauré who was in the older man’s debt; Gounod’s paternal influence is subtly felt in many a corner of French music, just as the clarity and elegance of his own best work seems to be part of an unbroken thread of creativity that goes back to Couperin and Rameau.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993