The poem is from Sully Prudhomme’s collection Stances et poèmes
(1865) where the title is the whole first line of the poem. This volume was also known to César Franck (La vase brisé
) and Duparc (Le galop
). Here are Hillemacher trademarks aplenty—a vocal line, murmured on monotones, which is a descant against a melody firmly traced in the bass line, the whole thing possessing a haunted quality, as if yearning for autrefois. Like Chanson d’un fou
by Pessard, the score of this song was discovered in Russia, in Debussy’s hand, among the papers of Alexander von Meck, son of Nadezhda von Meck. In 1932 it was published by Eschig as an early Debussy song before the truth was revealed. The Hillemachers had written a waltz that would not have disgraced Tchaikovsky in its mellifluous grace; having worked for Madame von Meck in 1880 in Russia, Debussy (no Tchaikovsky admirer) would have had time to size up her musical tastes (she idolized Tchaikovsky and supported him financially). It is possible that Debussy passed off the song as his own in 1881 to ingratiate himself with his rich employer whose daughter was temporarily the object of his affections.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006
English: Richard Stokes