The use of sly left-hand acciaccature, which are applied to harmonic pressure points here and there to prick them into more vibrant life, is once again typical. Just before ‘Alors mon cœur’ in the first verse (and in the corresponding place in the third and fifth verses) the composer adds an expressive ‘Ah!’ to the poem which is underpinned by a gentle echo of the music of the preceding two bars – both hands in the treble clef. This rarefied etiolation, a sudden switch to the music of dreams, is the purest of Chabrier, as is the sheer exultation when the music explodes into E flat major, bass octaves throbbing in ecstatic jumps beneath as the cobwebs of the minor key are blown away. The vocal line at this point, ornamented with shakes and acciaccature, is also extraordinary (note the idiosyncratic plunge of an octave at ‘ta personne!’). The end of each musical verse (i.e. the end of strophes 2, 4 and 6) is inflated to a grandeur that is hard to sustain and to take seriously. And yet how much more lovable is this than the throbbing triplets of the late Gounod songs with religious texts where the composer aims for a mood of sublime and sanctimonious piety. All Chabrier wants to convey here is ardour – admittedly on an inappropriately operatic scale. There is something so reckless about each verse’s final syllable– a lunge at a high G with a crushed grace note thrown in – that one finds oneself smiling involuntarily. And then we realise that this composer is perfectly aware of how ridiculous it is to make a big musical fuss about a little pathway, and how much he enjoys emphasising the paradox. One suspects that the copious exclamation marks in the score were not to be found in the original poem; if, as seems likely, they derive from Chabrier himself they could be indicative of what seems to be, in part at least, a cheery send-up.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002