Mélodies persanes op. 26 (Camille Saint-Saëns)
Author(s)SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)
La Brise – La Splendeur vide – La Solitaire – Sabre en main – Au cimetière – Tournoiement
Massenet’s Poème d’avril, then his Poème du souvenir (1866/68), had provided an example of how to adapt the song-cycle model that had flourished across the Rhine since Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte. Saint-Saëns, sympathetic to innovation and swayed by the tone of the preface to Nuits persanes by Armand Renaud (1836-1895) “No more schooling, no more flag, no more yoke!”, selected six poems from this thick volume, ordering them in such a way as to bring out their complementary qualities. Inspired by recent translations of Attar, Khayyam or Hafiz, Renaud’s verses are flat, unpolished, and sometimes little better than doggerel. However, Saint-Saëns selected the best poems, whose direct expression suited the rapid pace he favoured. One can forgive him for adding a few whimsical Moorish touches, since exoticism is the perfect way to ready the palate for some piquant harmonic, rhythmic or melodic barbarisms. La Brise with its driving rhythm is an appetizer. La Splendeur vide, which is more profound, conveys the contradiction of its title (Empty Splendour) by means of light-filled harmonic gaps. La Solitaire, an ardent, sensual song which dips into the lower register of the voice, gives the lie to Saint-Saëns’ reputation for coldness. Sabre en main is in the style of a march—alla breve rhythm and imperious vocal runs—and its extensive piano coda allows the singer to prepare for the sustained quiet of Au cimetière in which the vocal line navigates its way through chords as upright as a line of funerary columns. Tournoiement is a dazzling flight of fancy that marks both the end of the song cycle and the mystic quest.
- SAINT-SAËNS, Camille (1835-1921)
- Genre – La mélodie française