About this work
This energetic and lighthearted song was composed during 1885 and 1886, to words by Alfred de Musset (1810 - 1857).
Opening in an Allegretto con moto tempo, the accompaniment in D minor is a kind of Spanish trumpet-call dance melody, harmonized in thirds against a steady, pedal-point, guitar-like staccato bass played with subdued intensity at a piano dynamic. The accompaniment changes to a steady guitar strum as the voice enters, the first ascent of which bears a striking resemblance to the gypsy song "Les tringles des sistres tintaient" sung by Carmen, Frasquita, and Mercedes at a "suburban resort of smugglers" in Act II of Bizet's famous opera Carmen (1873 - 1874). The topmost notes of the two melodies are different and the rhythm accent is slightly shifted. However, this is probably only a Spanishism of the period because the rest of the tune goes decidedly along its own path.
"Nous venions de voir le taureau, Trois garcons, trois fillettes" (Three boys and three girls, we went to see the bull). There are some lovely mellismatic turns on the word "fillettes." "Sur la pelouse il faisait beau, Et nous dansions un boléro An son des castagnettes" (Outside the arena it was beautiful, and we danced the bolero to the sound of castanets). The opening ascending melody repeats and then reaches beyond the octave for a lovely grace note before descending an octave on the word "boléro." Another lovely mellisma occurs on the last part of "castegnettes" against a rich dominant ninth chord in a castanet rhythm.
The melody ritards slightly as the music becomes quieter, more intimate and seductive: "Dîtes-moi, voisin, Si j'ai bonne mine, Et si ma basquine Va bien ce matin. Vous me trouvez la taille fine? Vous me trouvez la taille fine?" (Tell me, neighbor, if I look good, and if my skirt is becoming this morning, do you find my waist slender? Do you find my waist slender?).
Made up of many "Ah"s and "la ra la la"s and the line "Les filles de Cadix aiment assez cela" (The girls of Cadiz rather like that), the next 24 measures are filled with a glorious vocalise built of trills, arpeggios, chromatic runs, and rhythmic punctuations on repeated notes.
The beginning instrumental introduction is repeated again and all of the above music is recapitulated almost exactly to set the words of the second verse and vocalise: "And we danced a bolero, one evening until it was Sunday. A cavalier came our way, with lace of gold, a feather in his hat, and his fist on his hip. If you will be mine, with your dark and soft smile, you have but to say, and this gold will be yours. Go on your way, handsome sir, go on your way...The maids of Cadiz don't pay attention to such words."