Published with accompaniment for piano in 1908 and for orchestra in 1909, the Sapphic Poem is notable for its delicate and romantic orchestration: double wind (only one oboe), two horns, one trumpet, triangle and strings, but no heavy brass, and, surprisingly, no harp. This allows the cello to sound clearly through the texture but nevertheless gives Bantock’s romanticism every chance to express itself. H O Anderton, who as well as being the author of the first full-length book on the composer was also Bantock’s general factotum and a composer and poet himself (and so well-placed to know what was intended in the music), wrote that the music is ‘full of the erotic sentiment of the Sappho songs and almost the whole is founded upon the motto phrase with which the Poem opens’. After rising to a big climax about half way through, followed by a brief cadenza for the soloist and a second climactic passage, the music gradually dies away as languorous, voluptuous tendrils of melody entice us to hope that Bantock’s exotic and scented picture will not fade.
The music is prefaced by a short quotation from Sappho: ‘and this I feel in myself’, the fifteenth fragment in Wharton’s translation.
from notes by Lewis Foreman © 1997