This is Gautier (the Poésies nouvelles
again) in the Dardanelles and ‘au bord de l’eau’. The poem has no heading but Fauré changes the poet’s own adjectival ‘seul’ in the second strophe to the feminine ‘seule’ and uses this, together with a dramatic exclamation mark, as his title. The imposing classical economy and severity of the music, and its musically appointed feminine narrator, cannot help but bring to mind that most famous of mourners who waited in vain for a sign of life from the Hellespont – Hero, priestess of Aphrodite, whose lover Leander had drowned there. In order to visit Hero, Leander had nightly swum the four miles (Byron measured the distance by setting himself the same challenge) between Sestos and Abydos. Before committing suicide Hero lamented Leander’s death – perhaps in words like these. Gautier’s visit to Constantinople in 1852 accounts for a reference in the second strophe to the basilica of Saint Sophia, admittedly an anachronism had any classical allusion been intended. But if the poem has set Fauré thinking of this episode in Greek mythology one might opine that this was his first classically inspired song. France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, and the ensuing chaos of the Commune, began a new chapter in French music; the contemporary example of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage
seems to have given Fauré confidence to write songs in the grand manner. This is his first in the minor key, and the composer no longer strives automatically for a salon-pleasing charm. The music gives the impression of being an obsessive passacaglia punctuated by tolling right-hand octaves.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005