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8.554166 - DANCE OF THE BLESSED SPIRITS
Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Ever since the Renaissance imagined an Arcadian paradise of rustic pan-pipes and sweet-plucked Orphean lyres, the fancifully associative sound and visual interplay of flute and harp has drawn composers and arrangers, with Mozart's alluring duo concerto written in Paris in 1776 a gracious example of the combination at its most expressively sensuous.
Celebrated in many guises, an in performances from period instrument to symphonic, Rachmaninov to Toscanini, Gluck's Dance of the Blessed Spirits comes from a ballet sequence in Act II of Orfeo ed Euridice (1762 version) - supreme among the master-acts of European operatic tradition.
Debussy's misty Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune, written between 1892 and 1994, freely illustrates a symbolist poem by Mallarmé telling of the desires and dreams of a faun in the heat of a summer afternoon. Finely imaged, delicately balanced salon music of ethereal perfume, the popular First Arabesque comes from a set of two for piano published in Paris in 1891.
Gentleman and seer, artist without ambition, Fauré was a pupil of Saint-Saëns, organist at the Madeleine, Director of the Paris Conservatoire, and Ravel's teacher. His Sicilienne, for cello and piano, written in March 1893, became famous through the incidental music for the 1898 English production of Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande, in which context (Enti-'acte before Act II, the fountain scene where Mélisande loses her ring) it was heard in an orchestration by Koechlin highlighting flute and harp. Much transcribed, the earlier Berceuse for violin and piano (1878-79) is a gentle boudoir miniature, redolent of Chopin. Paris first heard it on St Valentine's Day 1880.
Known to the Mozart family, the Viennese-born composer, pianist, organist and singer Maria Theresia von Paradis was the blind god-daughter of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa. Popularised in the 1930s, the E flat Sicilienne (one of her few surviving pieces) essays a favourite type of eighteenth-century pastoral aria in 6/8 time.
Elgar's Chanson de matin, for violin and piano, completed on 6th March 1899, belongs to a "fresh-as-dew, bruised innocence" brand of delicacy quintessentially Anglo-Saxon-Empire in flavour. Likewise Salut d'Amour (1888), dedicated to his wife Caroline Alice, is a period tea-time piece to grace only the finest pianofortes.
The "Picasso of music", Satie, son of a Norman Catholic father and a Scottish Protestant mother, was one of the most eccentric yet far-seeing figures of his day - Saint-Saëns (bought him a lunatic, Jean Cocteau a visionary. Erotically unfolding, the Gymnopédies, written for piano in 1888, spiritually evoke the rituals and dances of naked boys from ancient Sparta. Intuitive, chaste, hypnotic miracles, not so much heard as overheard, it has been said they have been the inspiration of generations from Debussy to Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Derived from both an instrumental setting and a secular song to words by Lamartine, Gounod's Ave Maria, published for voice and piano in 1859, was a mélodie religicuse, as popular with the Victorians as the Second Empire and Civil War America. Equally satisfying romantic sentimentality and baroque worship, Gounod cleverly grafted his melody onto the first C major Prelude from J.S. Bach's Forty Eight Preludes and Fugues.
Bach, the provincial, backward-looking Cantor of St Thomas's, Leipzig, was musically valued but largely forgotten by the galant/classical succession of the
eighteenth century. It was left to the nineteenth to rediscover and the twentieth to understand him. The Siciliano, well known in the romanticised piano transcriptions of Alkan and Kempff, comes from the E flat Sonata No. 2 for flute and continuo, written in Leipzig before 9th September 1734.
Scanning Bizet's greatest posthumous success, Carmen, Nietzsche thought it perfect. Yet its premi6re at the Paris Opéra-Comique, on 3rd March 1875, was a failure. The Intermezzo from the First Orchestral Suite corresponds to the Entr'acte from the beginning of Act III. In a smugglers' wild mountain cave, Carmen the gypsy girl, is taunting Don José, a corporal of dragoons, and thinking of Escamillo the toreador. The cards foretell her impending death.
Suggestive of courtly lament imagined in the style of a grave Latin renaissance dance, dedicated to the American-born Parisian society hostess Princess Edmond de Polignac, the Pavane pour une Infante défunte, composed for piano in 1899, is more allusive than programmatic. Its exquisitely turned phrases and modal cadences belie Ravel's exaggeration that he never had ideas, only random notes.
To show the scenery, life, people, history and folk poetry of his country, to write for his time and place, was all Norwegian Grieg ever wanted to do. He left it to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, he said, to create for eternity. His incidental score (1874-75) for an Oslo production of Ibsen's five-act Peer Gynt, the timeless tale of a country boy who has wild adventures, goes to Morocco, suffers shipwreck, and as an old man returns home where his childhood sweetheart still awaits him, was composed in response to a request from the playwright. Our two numbers come from Act IV: the orchestral prelude, Morning and the tenth scene, Solveig's Song, shining "like a sparkling clear and fine little star-flower in the midst of Eastern luxuriance".
Principal architect of Italian instrumental music during the classical period, Boccherini from Lucca, a cellist, was composer and virtuoso di camera to the Infante of Spain, the chamber composer, perhaps in absentia to Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia. Music of powdered etiquette and faded adornment, the posthumously much transcribed Minuetto comes from his E major Quintet No. 8 for two violins, viola and two cellos (1771), published in Paris.
"Democratizer of art", Gossec, a Walloon peasant, introduced the first ever Haydn symphony to France, directed the Concert Spirituel and Opera, identified with the Republican cause, and in 1795 was appointed first professor of composition on the founding of the Paris Conservatoire. His catchy Tambourin for fife and drum (pipe and tabor) acknowledges a species of rhythmically "swinging" French character-piece reputedly based on Provenqal folk-dance.
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