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The piano writing is, as always, a portrait of the composer’s own enthusiasm. In the eight-bar introduction single crotchets in the left hand are offset by three semiquavers in the right. The result of many repetitions of this pattern is a slew of glistening notes which trace the hidden contours of a long melody before the voice takes over with a new long-breathed melody of its own. If one has the refined rise and fall of the mélodies of Fauré, Debussy or Ravel in mind, this type of vocal enthusiasm may seem to be a bit rude (in the French sense of ‘rough’ or ‘harsh’). There is no trace of the cultivated whisper in this music which one hears in the differently adorable works of Reynaldo Hahn for example. Chabrier demands a manly presence from his tenors merely in order that they should counter, and climb above, the rumbustious piano writing. A heart-on-sleeve singer filling his lungs and giving his ‘all’ is something that both delights and amuses this composer who is a highly sophisticated boulevardier playing at being a naive country yokel – or vice versa.
Great-hearted and unselfconscious outpourings are Chabrier’s stock-in-trade and he is pleased to subvert what might be expected of him by ‘respectable folk’ in writing songs; indeed he is subversive in this way again and again throughout his career. The composer’s ideal in this voice type was his friend Ernest Van Dyck who was the first French Parsifal. The heroic edge to this song, even on such an unheroic subject, belongs unashamedly to the theatre and the world of pre-Pelléas French opera which make tough vocal demands on their tenors (the operas of Bizet are an example of this). There is much recital music in which the opera singer sounds inappropriately like a bull in a china shop, but here is music, poised between the two arenas, which actually requires a larger-than-life vocal commitment within the confines of writing which simultaneously calls for delicacy of feeling. The composer’s manuscript has three verses of Banville’s poem; the Delage edition prints a further three from the poet’s total ten (thus a strophic repetition of the whole song). The composer’s manuscript implies that this was his wish.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2002
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