Ernest Chausson

Poème de l'amour et de la mer, for voice & orchestra, Op. 19

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    Except in the domain of the mélodie, of which he became a supreme master, Chausson seems to have been more hindered than helped by words. The composition of his grand opera Le roi Arthus, for which he wrote a superb libretto, occupied him from 1886 until 1895. Likewise, he agonized over the setting of his friend Maurice Boucher's verses for the Poème de l'amour et de la mer from 1882 until 1890, visiting revisions upon the work again in 1893. Boucher (1855-1929) was not a great, nor even a very distinguished, poet. And that's perhaps as well, as his cliché-filled sketch of a seaside summer romance allowed Chausson extended opportunities, unhampered by undue explicitness, for mood and scene painting. The Parnassian inheritance -- banal images of a time of lilacs and roses giving way to the metallic rustle of dead leaves as love dies -- becomes transfigured in Chausson's music into an exquisite, frantic, almost palpable evocation of both the period (what is now thought of as "the Nineties") and the psychology of Romantic love. Part I, "La fleur des eaux," is a gentle seascape reflecting radiant, sunlit happiness, levitated by sensuous arabesques and fretted with anxious anticipation -- "O sky that will reflect the color of her eyes" -- to rise in a soaring climax before melting into an entranced, hymn-like, beatific vision of the beloved -- "a beautiful girl was there upon the shore...smiling with a tender wildness." Almost at once it is fraught with a premonition of the end -- "What wild lament will sound the hour of farewell?" -- as exaltation becomes a startled keening, for "my very soul is taken away from me, and the dull booming of the waves muffles my sobs." A brief orchestral interlude rehearses the poignant melody associated with the lost happiness of "le temps des lilas." With the final, extended section -- "La mort de l'amour" -- the season has turned, the weather has changed, the seascape returns with the tempestuous shimmer of "sauvage" sorcery as black skies and howling winds presage the beloved's sudden coldness -- "my blood turned to ice at my love's strange smile....I could read this fatal word in her wide eyes: oblivion." A final spellbinding lament for the irrecoverable, irremediable "time of lilacs and roses" (arranged in 1886 as a mélodie with piano accompaniment) ends on a sustained hush of desolation. Scored with a scintillating sumptuousness according a psychically penetrating prominence to the woodwinds, the Poème de l'amour et de la mer has become something of a Liebestod for mezzos, while the score is marked unequivocally "pour une voix (élevée) et orchestre." Curiously, the first performance was given in Brussels in 1893 at one of the prestigious and distinguished subscription concerts organized by Octave Maus, with the composer accompanying a tenor, one Désiré Demest, in his own arrangement for piano.

    Parts/Movements

    1. La fleur des eaux
    2. Interlude
    3. La mort de l'amour

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2019 Alpha 441
    2016 Praga / Praga Digitals PRD 250345
    2015 Ondine ODE 12612
    2015 ABC Classics 4811633
    2013 Berlin Classics 0300523BC
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099990377
    2012 Decca
    2012 Decca 4783589
    2012 Yarlung Records YAR 14148
    2010 Zig Zag Territoires ZZT100402
    2010 Naïve V 5255
    2010 Warner Classics 468625
    2008 Erato 4697012
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099920808
    2008 Decca 4756060
    2008 SOMM 75
    2007 Virgin 365463
    2007 Apex
    2007 Urania URN 22312
    2007 Analekta 29924
    2007 Rhino
    2006 Erato
    2006 Ponto 1046
    2005 Naxos 8557274
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 86622
    2005 EMI Classics 5866212
    2005 Warner Classics 61938
    2005 EMI Music Distribution 68667
    2005 Urania 926
    2004 Aeon 0314
    2004 Warner Fonit 43341
    2003 Apex 48992
    2001 VAI Audio 1210
    2001 Testament 1208
    2001 BBC Legends 40772
    2000 Decca 458010
    1999 London 433472
    1997 London 448151
    1997 London 455 295-2LM5
    1996 Erato 14073
    1995 BMG 68008
    1994 EMI Music Distribution 650612
    1993 IMP Classics 1037
    1992 Chandos 8952
    1992 London 433802
    1988 Erato 45368
    FNAC Music 592275
    REM 311074
    EMI Music Distribution 69801
    BBC Music Magazine 96
    RCA Victor 61899
    Carlton 15656
    SNE 2031
    Asv 643
    EMI Music Distribution 763549
    RCA Victor 61893
    Melba Recordings 301123
    Fonit-Cetra Italia 90