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If the accompaniment suggests the composer’s own imaginings of fatherly pride (he was to be a father himself twelve years later) the entry of the soprano adds a mother’s solicitude. Although Chabrier did not designate which voice he had in mind for the song, the supple charm and floating flexibility of the vocal writing suggests the lighter touch of the female voice. In the partnership of singer and accompanist we can sense both parents standing around the cradle paying homage to the little king in their midst. (The composer is amusingly aware of the imperious nature of a child’s demands and reflects this in the stamping bass and forte dynamic at ‘Il est roi, le bel enfant’ – one is reminded of Rossini’s scurrilous Chanson du bébé). Even at this stage the twenty-one-year-old composer has an astonishing ability to spin a melody which seems perfectly proportioned and inevitable without excluding the possibility of delicious surprises en route – such as the sudden flattening of the harmony into the minor tonality in the closing cadence. The song is completely strophic in the manner of couplets: it is thus less modern in form than many of the more or less contemporary mélodies of Gounod, Saint-Saëns and the young Fauré, but the piano writing is much more daring and characterful than almost anything to be found in the composers of the old-fashioned romance. Even at this early stage Chabrier is able to set out his unique stylistic stall.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002
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