Après un rêve is familiar as one of the most celebrated of Gabriel Fauré’s many songs. Composed during the 1870s, it is an early work that sets an anonymous Italian poem as freely adapted into French by Romain Bussine; its popularity has given rise to arrangements and transcriptions for many instruments, most famously for cello and piano.
Its title prompted that of this work, Après un autre rêve?… as it centres around another dream – Сон – to a Russian text by Fyodor Sologub as set by the equally great and prolific song composer Sergey Vasilyevich Rachmaninoff; this, his penultimate song for voice and piano, is the fifth of his Six Romances, Op. 38 and has another existence in an exquisite transcription for piano solo by Earl Wild. Fauré’s song portrays someone who awakes from a dream to which he wishes to return but cannot do so, whereas Rachmaninoff’s centres on the very notion of dreams and dreamers.
Whereas Wild’s work is largely a faithful “pianization” (as Percy Grainger might have put it) of Rachmaninoff’s song with but few decorative additions, Après un autre rêve?… follows the example of its composer’s Vocalise-Reminscenza, Op. 29, in taking another Rachmaninoff song – Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14 – as its point de départ, its ideas the fons et origo of a quasi-improvisatory piece in which increasingly extended fragments of Rachmaninoff’s original begin to emerge as it progresses.
Although almost a quarter century separates Vocalise-Reminscenza from Après un autre rêve?…, the two Rachmaninoff songs on which they are based were composed only around a year apart.
The contour of the opening phrase of Rachmaninoff’s Сон – and that of Après un autre rêve?… – is reminiscent of that of the Dies Iræ plainchant, quoted by numerous composers through the ages though perhaps few more frequently than Rachmaninoff; this, however, is the very opposite of a wrathful dream! A similar phrase shape opens the Intermezzo that is the final piece in Brahms’ Sechs Klavierstücke, Op. 118, from 1893. Another occurs near the beginning of the second movement of the Sonate-Vocalise, Op. 41, No. 1 (1922) by Rachmaninoff’s friend and compatriot Nikolai Medtner and, curiously, something similar also opens Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 14, Op. 135, from almost half a century later. However, despite all but the radiant Medtner example sharing a bleakness of outlook, these likenesses are almost certainly little more than merely coincidental.
Unlike Vocalise-Reminiscenza, Après un autre rêve?… loosely follows the tale of Сон but, in broadly sharing the mood of the Rachmaninoff songs that inspired their creation and round which they revolve, they are effectively personal “commentaries” on them.
A significant motivation for the choice of this song was a fond memory of two most moving performances of Rachmaninoff’s Op. 38 Romances in London sung by Sarah Leonard with pianist Jonathan Powell.
© Alistair Hinton