Alas! Alas! sad awakening from dreams
I call you, O night, give me back your lies,
A melody so exquisite that the words are almost superfluous, once heard, can never be forgotten. Après un rêve is blessed with one of the most eloquent melodies ever created. Long gentle arches float like delicate silks in the air, animated in a gentle breeze of lazy triplets and coloured through exotic harmonies. The tender throbbing heartbeat that supports this free-floating beauty, is one of Fauré’s most effectively crafted accompaniments. Every chord change either has a unison with a note from the previous chord, or a chromatic shift of a Semi-tone. This creates a physical sensation of clinging, or floating, as if the hands are embracing the chord changes as the music is embracing the emotions it is attempting to convey. Fauré was fond of colourful chromatic shifts and unexpected harmonies crop up in many of his pieces – they can be perplexing and sometimes appear too brightly coloured for the surrounding harmonic cloth in which they find themselves. In this work though, Fauré struck gold. There is the sense of inevitability of harmony that characterises his greatest work, and yet it is unpredictable and pleasing to the ear, as fresh on the hundredth hearing as the first.
The two elements work together “in perfect harmony” propelling the song forward in motion, while creating a sense of unhurried experience of every nuance of emotion. When it builds to the climax it seems “appropriate” and in proportion, regardless of the text that might have inspired it. For this reason this particular song, more than most, has been transposed, transcribed and arranged for virtually every instrument. But it is not simply conceived as a vocalise.
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) was written in 1878 to a text by Romain Bussine. Awaking from a “dream of love” – with all the Jungian and Freudian implications implied by the term, the “dreamer” is filled with regret and longing for that which has passed. All that longing and those pain-filled memories are too much to fit into a term such as “nostaligia for a past love”, as some commentators have described. Bussine’s text is ecstatic, and we experience the feelings evoked by those “unknown splendours, divine flashes”.
Romain Bussine (1830–1899) was a French poet, baritone, and voice teacher who lived in Paris during the 19th century. In 1871, together with Camille Saint-Saëns and Henri Duparc, he founded the Société Nationale de Musique as a forum for promoting contemporary French chamber and orchestral music. Gabriel Fauré set one of his poems as Après un rêve, op. 7 no.1. The poem, based on an Italian poem titled “Levati sol che la luna é levatai,” is a soliloquy about a rapturous dream of a passionate encounter to which the singer longs to return, “though my dreams be but lying.” (from the 2005 English singing translation by Gloria Merle Huffman)
Another setting by Fauré of a poem by Bussine is Sérénade Toscane.
Bussine worked for many years as a voice teacher at the Paris Conservatory. A baritone, he occasionally gave recitals and performed in concerts in Paris; although he was not a prolific performer. He notably sang the role of the High Priest in the first hearing of the second act of Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah in a private performance in 1870. Among his notable pupils were composers Guillaume Couture and Achille Fortier. He died in Paris.
In July 1877 Fauré became engaged to Pauline Viardot’s daughter Marianne, with whom he was deeply in love.To his great sorrow, she broke off the engagement in November 1877, for reasons that are not clear. To distract Fauré, Saint-Saëns took him to Weimar and introduced him to Franz Liszt. This visit gave Fauré a liking for foreign travel, which he indulged for the rest of his life. Many writers have read into Après un rêve, the emotions of a broken hearted man who lost the love of his life. Fanciful or not, it is clear that the simple elegance and uncluttered composition is immensely powerful and expressive.
From 1878, he and Messager made trips abroad to see Wagner operas. They saw Das Rheingold and Die Walküre at the Cologne Opera; the complete Ring cycle at the Hofoper in Munich and at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London; and Die Meistersinger in Munich and at Bayreuth, where they also saw Parsifal. They frequently performed as a party piece their joint composition, the irreverent Souvenirs de Bayreuth. This short, up-tempo piano work for four hands sends up themes from The Ring. Fauré admired Wagner and had a detailed knowledge of his music, but he was one of the few composers of his generation not to come under Wagner’s musical influence.
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Fauré), Lyrics by Romain Bussine (1830-1899) IN FRENCH
Dans un sommeil que charmait ton image Je rêvais le bonheur, ardent mirage, Tes yeux étaient plus doux, ta voix pure et sonore, Tu rayonnais comme un ciel éclairé par l'aurore; Tu m'appelais et je quittais la terre Pour m'enfuir avec toi vers la lumière, Les cieux pour nous entr'ouvraient leurs nues, Splendeurs inconnues, lueurs divines entrevues, Hélas! Hélas! triste réveil des songes Je t'appelle, ô nuit, rends moi tes mensonges, Reviens, reviens radieuse, Reviens ô nuit mystérieuse!
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Fauré), Lyrics by Romain Bussine (1830-1899) IN ENGLISH
In a slumber which held your image spellbound I dreamt of happiness, passionate mirage, Your eyes were softer, your voice pure and sonorous, You shone like a sky lit up by the dawn; You called me and I left the earth To run away with you towards the light, The skies opened their clouds for us, Unknown splendours, divine flashes glimpsed, Alas! Alas! sad awakening from dreams I call you, O night, give me back your lies, Return, return radiant, Return, O mysterious night.
Download Sheet Music for Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré):
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) performed by a true “vocal aristrocrat” Gérard Souzay and an uncredited pianist.
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) performed Live by Diana Damrau, Xavier de Maistre (accompanying on the HARP). The Harp accompaniment gives it a shimmering quality, sustaining the chords and harmonies without getting thick – one of the dangers of the piano version.
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) in an extraordinarily sensitively sung orchestrated version by Pop Superstar Barbra Streissand. “Classical Barbra” was recorded in 1976 and contained classical artsongs by Debussy, Wolf, Schumann and others and was praised highly by artists such as Leonard Bernstein. Some classical singers have criticised some of her vocal expression, or some placing of the note, but it still remains one of the most heartfelt and exquistely emotional performances of this work I ever heard.
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) performed by Régine Crespin and John Wustman
Après un rêve Op. 7 No. 1 (Gabriel Fauré) performed in the Casals Arrangement for Cello, by Mstislav Rostropovich and A. Dedjuchin