BERLIOZ: Nuits d'ete
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Ernest Chausson (1855-1899): Po?¿me de l'amour et de la mer
Paul Dukas (1865-1935): La peri
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869): Les nuits d'ete
Brought up in cultured adult surroundings, ErnestChausson acquired wide artistic interests. He wasinduced by his family to study and qualify as a lawyer,although he never practised as an advocate, insteadturning his attention to music. He joined Massenet'sclass in orchestration at the Conservatoire in 1879, whileinformally attending the influential classes of CesarFranck. Failure to win the Prix de Rome in 1881 led himto discontinue formal instruction, while the influence ofWagner exercised a further influence on his work as acomposer. With a private income, he was able to lead alife that allowed travel, and association with leadingwriters, musicians and artists of the time, after hismarriage in 1882 and honeymoon at Bayreuth. He diedin 1899 as the result of a cycling accident.
Chausson's Po?¿me de l'amour et de la mer (Poemof Love and of the Sea) was written during the yearsfrom 1882 to 1890 and revised in 1893. It is a dramaticsetting of poems by Maurice Bouchor, whose verses hadprovided texts for a number of songs by Chausson,including a group of translations by Bouchor fromShakespeare. The work opens with La fleur des eaux(The flower of the waters), with music that reflects thetranquil romantic mood of the poem, the air filled by thescent of lilacs. The music mounts to a rhapsodic climax,before tranquillity intervenes, and the strings introducethe simplicity of Et mon coeur s'est leve par ce matind'ete. A transition leads to a slower passage, Quel sonlamentable et sauvage, as the mood changes, reaching afurther climax, before a rhapsodic conclusion. TheInterlude is marked Lent et triste (Slow and sad),opening with a bassoon melody, continued briefly by asolo cello, before the mood lightens, to end, as it began,in C minor. La mort de l'amour (The Death of Love) isfirst marked Vif et joyeux (Lively and joyful), as thesinger greets the approach to the island. This leads, withpassing ecstasy, to a passage marked Sombre etsolennel, now in G minor, the memory of love nowdead. The movement ends with Le temps des lilas (Thetime of lilacs), a section to be published separately,mourning for the death of love.
A friend of Debussy and pupil of Bizet's friendGuiraud, Paul Dukas came very near to winning theimportant Prix de Rome, but left the Paris Conservatoireto embark on an early career as a critic and orchestrator.
His acute critical sense led him to destroy many of hisown compositions, but he remained an important figurein French musical life and a highly respected teacher. Heis popularly known for his symphonic scherzo afterGoethe, The Sorcerer's Apprentice, choreographed as aballet in 1916 in Petrograd by Fokine.
La peri (The Fairy), a po?¿me danse, was written in1911 and 1912, choreographed by the Russian dancerIvan Clustine, ballet-master at the Paris Opera, before hejoined Pavlova's company in 1914. The work wasdedicated to Natalia Trouhanova, who danced the firstperformance in 1912, a dancer influenced by the freedance style of Isadora Duncan. A Fanfare precedes thepo?¿me itself, and its music, with themes identified withIskender and with the Fairy, follows the scenario:It happened that, as his youth came to an end, theMagi having observed that his star was growing pale,Iskender travelled through Iran, seeking the Flower ofImmortality. The sun dwelt three times in its twelvehouses without him finding it, until he came finally tothe ends of the Earth, to the point where it joined the seaand the clouds. And there, on the steps that lead to thecourt of Ormuzd, a Fairy lay, sleeping in her jewelledrobe. A star shone above her head, her lute rested on herbosom and in her hand the Flower shone. And it was alotus like the emerald, undulating like the sea in themorning sun. Iskender leant noiselessly over theSleeper, and, without waking her, stole the Flower,which suddenly became, in his fingers, like the noondaysun on the forests of Ghilan. But the Fairy, opening hereyes, clapped her hands together and cried out, for shecould not now mount again to the light of Ormuzd.
Meanwhile Iskender, looking at her, admired her facethat surpassed in delight even that of Gurdaferrid. Andhe desired her in his heart, so that the Fairy knew theKing's thought, for in the hand of Iskender the lotusgrew purple and became like the face of desire. Thus theservant of the Pure knew that this flower of Life was notdestined for him, and she leapt forward to take it back, aslight as a bee, while the Invincible Lord drew the Lotusaway from her, divided between his thirst forimmortality and the delight of his eyes. But the Fairydanced the dance of the Fairies, always coming nearer,until her face touched Iskender's, and finally he gave itto her, without regret. Then the lotus seemed of snowand of gold like the height of Elbourz in the evening sun.
The form of the Fairy seemed to melt into the light fromthe calyx and soon nothing could be seen except a hand,lifting up the flower of flame that vanished into the skyabove. Iskender saw her disappear, and understandingthat this signified his coming end, he felt the shadowencircle him.
Hector Berlioz was born in the French province ofIs?¿re, the son of a doctor, in a family of some localsubstance. As a child he was taught principally by hisfather, and was swayed by various enthusiasms,including an overwhelming urge towards music that ledhim to compose. In Paris he eventually abandoned hismedical studies, undertaken at his father's insistence,turning, instead, to music. He had not been idle as acomposer, but he prudently took lessons from Lesueur,whose Conservatoire class he entered in 1826.
In 1829 Berlioz saw Shakespeare's Hamlet for thefirst time, with Charles Kemble as the Prince and theIrish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia. Theexperience was overwhelming and in the season he hadthe opportunity to see much more, sharing in the popularadulation of Harriet Smithson, with whom he fellviolently in love, at first to be rejected, leading to hisautobiographical Symphonie Fantastique. It was onlyafter his return from Rome, where final victory in thePrix de Rome had allowed him to spend two years, andwhen her popularity began to wane, that she agreed to behis wife, a match that brought neither of them muchhappiness.
In the following years Berlioz remained an outsiderto the French musical establishment. He earned a livingas a critic, while as a composer and conductor he wonmore distinction abroad. Both then and in later years hewas seen as the very type of an individual genius, theromantic artist, driven to excess by enthusiasms andparanoid in reaction to criticism or opposition, as hisMemoires show. After the death of his wife in 1854 hewas able to marry the singer Marie Recio, with whom hehad enjoyed a relationship already of some twelve years.
Her sudden death in 1862 and that of his son Louis, anaval officer, in 1867, saddened his final years. He diedin 1869.
Berlioz's literary interests are apparent in his songsand choral works. For Les nuits d'ete (The Nights ofSummer), a group of songs rather than a unified cycle,he chose to set verses by the romantic poet and writerTheophile Gautier, a near neighbour in Paris, whosepoems La comedie de la mort (The Comedy of Death)were published in 1838, although it is said that Berliozmay have read some of these in manuscript and set thembefore the completion of the set of songs in 1841.
Written for mezzo-soprano or tenor and piano theoriginal songs were dedicated to Louise Bertin, daughterof Louis Bertin, editor of the Journal des debats, towhich Berlioz was a contributor, and composer of fouroperas of romantic ambition but varied success. It was in1843 that Berlioz orchestrated