This enchanting little serenade brings to mind Gounod’s Victor Hugo setting of the same name, composed in 1857. The similarities extend from the pastoral 6/8 metre to the final word – ‘toujours’ – common to both refrains. Chabrier is less ambitious than Gounod in terms of coloratura (although the courtly roulade in the opening bars of the vocal line for ‘charmante femme’ is indeed charming) but the debt to Gounod is clear. As in L’Enfant
there is an earthiness to the music which is nurtured by a strong bass line which borders on the bourdon. For Chabrier the persistent drone effect (particularly in the lilting sequences of the nine-bar introduction) suggests the vitality of country music-making. This does not preclude a gallantry which suggests the sophisticated courtier in an old-world setting. Such a piece would not be out of place in an opera (such as Le Roi malgré lui
) set in the late sixteenth century. The vocal line graced with crushed notes is already an established trademark of this composer; there are also signs here of Chabrier’s developing fondness for the use of wide and unexpected intervals – a mannerism such as this would sound awkward in other hands, but time and again these touches of seeming eccentricity confer a heady charm on the music.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002