Où voulez-vous aller?
is the earliest of the Gounod songs and the only mélodie which pre-dates the composer’s youthful sojourn in Italy as the winner of the Prix de Rome. The poem was published in Gautier’s La Comédie de la mort
in 1838 and it is clear that even as a student at the Paris conservatoire Gounod had an interest in modern poetry. In Gautier’s collection the lyric appears under the title Barcarole
, and the composer uses this as the subtitle of his song, for which he provides an undulating 6/8 rhythm and a melody of enormous charm. The more turbulent and much better known setting by Berlioz (L’île inconnue
, also 6/8 and the last of the Nuits d’été
cycle) dates from about a year after this song, an apt reminder that Gounod often confounds chronological expectations by writing music which pre-dates that of the composers who were supposedly his antecedents, and by continuing to write long after the mantle of French song had passed to the younger shoulders of Henri Duparc and Gabriel Fauré. In the vocal display of Où voulez-vous aller?
we can detect Italianate traces of bel canto and the ghosts of the rather more ornate precursors of the mélodie. The composer cleverly uses these characteristics the better to paint the blandishments and extravagant promises of the seducer. The recipient of his ‘invitation au voyage’ is given a few lines of response in the third verse, and the contrast between the speakers, one hedonistic the other idealistic, is well managed within the strophic patterns established by the previous verses.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993