This poem is entitled Lamento
in Gautier’s La comédie de la mort
(1838). Berlioz’s setting is entitled Sur les lagunes
(from Les nuits d’été
) and dates from 1856. Fauré first came into contact with Gounod in 1872 and both composers set this poem in that year, Gounod under the title Ma belle amie est morte
. Apart from repetitions of the phrase ‘sans amour’ Fauré avoids the verbal meanderings of Gounod who also shamelessly cuts Gautier’s text. If Fauré fails to match the anguish of Berlioz at his height he writes a highly effective song in the Italian manner. It was immediately taken up by Madame Lalo, although its dedicatee, Pauline Viardot, took some time to include it into her repertoire. If the opening gives the impression of an unaccompanied recitative senza misura
it is evident, even at this early stage, that exactness of rhythm is a vital component of the composer’s musical planning. Fauré reflects the narrator’s solitary grief in harmonies that suggest the emptiness of bereavement and an unsettled state of mind. At the song’s opening the intermittent triplets of the accompaniment suggest the plying of a fisherman’s oar in the lagoons rather than the dipping and plunging of a larger vessel. As the song gets into its stride the words tumble more readily from the singer’s lips and an initially compressed emotional horizon broadens into a grieving seascape. Fauré returned to this work a quarter of a century later to orchestrate it.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005