It was Fauré’s unenviable task, as critic of Le Figaro
, to set to music a poem that had won the newspaper’s prize for the best poem about peace. The composer had already avoided a commission for a work celebrating the allied victory. Fauré regarded this text by someone otherwise unknown in the world of literature as a ‘horrible little poem’. In the end the composer, as Nectoux puts it, salvaged his self-respect; he was even rather proud of the result, calling it ‘a small tour de force’. Dotted rhythms pervade the music which recalls the music for Ulysses’ triumphant return in Pénélope
. Yet it is clear that Fauré, unlike his rabidly anti-German mentor Saint-Saëns, is no triumphalist. It takes some time for the rejoicing tonality of A major to be established, and even then he manages to overcome any jingoistic bluster in favour of gratitude and relief. Built into this somewhat muted music there is a veil of sadness, a comment on the pointlessness and waste of the whole terrible episode. The prize-winning poetess must have been furious; she objected mightily to the composer cutting her poem in half and replacing the patriotic slang ‘poilus’ with the simple word ‘soldats’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005