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2.110312 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - FRANCE: From Marseille to Cannes (NTSC)
A Musical Tour of the South of France: Tarascon, the Camargue, Arles, Fréjus and Cannes
Château du Roi René, Tarascon
The old town of Tarascon is widely known from Alphonse Daudet’s stories of the boastful Tartarin de Tarascon. The Château du Roi René there was completed in the mid-15th century by King René. The castle, on the site of a former fortress, had been started by Louis II of Anjou near the beginning of the century. A massively solid structure, with seven towers, it was used as a prison until 1926.
Music Chabrier: Marche joyeuse
Emmanuel Chabrier (1841–1894) was intended by his parents for the law and he worked at the Ministry of the Interior in Paris until, in 1880, he was able to devote himself fully to music. The triumphant Marche joyeuse, originally for piano, was written in 1888 and finally scored for a large orchestra, with a dedication to the composer Vincent d’Indy.
Château d’If, Marseille
The Château d’If, a fortress and prison on an inaccessible island off the coast of Marseille, has earned its fame from scenes in the novel by Alexandre Dumas père, The Count of Monte Cristo. There the unjust imprisonment of the hero, Edmond Dantès, and his daring escape taking the place of a shrouded dead body that is to be thrown into the water, adds romantic interest to the sinister place. The castle was built for King François I in 1524 and its dark dungeons housed, over the centuries, prisoners that included, for a time, the Man in the Iron Mask, Mirabeau and others. There are other rocky islands to be seen from the platform above the prison.
Music Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte
Maurice Ravel (1875–1937) was arguably the leading composer of his generation, particularly after the death of Debussy. His evocative Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavan for a Dead Infanta) was given its title as an apparent afterthought, although it suggests the current French nostalgia for an earlier, idealised world. The work was written in 1899, scored for the piano, and was orchestrated in 1910.
Much of the Camargue, an expanse of flat marsh and pasture-land on the south coast of Provence, is now a Nature Reserve. It is known for its bulls and for the breed of white horses supposedly introduced to the region by the Saracens.
Music Fauré: Sicilienne
Gabriel Fauré (1845–1924) eventually became Ravel’s teacher at the Paris Conservatoire, of which he was appointed director. His Sicilienne, using the form of a Baroque dance, was written in 1893 and originally scored for cello and piano, with a dedication to the English cellist WH Squire. It was used in incidental music for performances of Molière’s Le bourgeoisgentilhomme in the same year and was later orchestrated to form part of the music for Maeterlinck’s play Pelléas et Mélisande.
Port de Poussai
The Port de Poussai is a typical fishing-village and holiday resort, characteristic in its geological formation, of the rocky coast-line of the region.
Music Godard: Berceuse
Benjamin Godard (1849–1895) is of relatively minor importance. Distinguished enough as a violaplayer, he won a reputation as a composer of insubstantial salon music. The Berceuse, however, is taken from his opera Jocelyn, first staged in 1888. In the second act the hero, having taken refuge in an eagle’s cave, watches over the sleeping Laurence, whom he has helped to escape.
St-Raphaël, Ile d’Or, Côte d’Azur
St-Raphaël is a popular resort on the Gulf of Fréjus, to the west of Cannes and at the foot of the Massif de l’Estérel. It has a fine beach and the rocky coast has a number of offshore islets.
Music Debussy: La terrasse des audiences au clair de lune
Claude Debussy (1862–1918), an innovative composer whose work exercised a profound influence, was inspired to write his La terrasse des audiences au clair du lune (Terrace of Audiences in the Moonlight), by a report of the Indian durbar of 1912. Here he conjures up a mysterious world with a work that appeared first in his second book of piano Préludes.
La fête des gardians, Arles
The Fête des gardians is the annual celebration of the custodians of the Camargue, the so-called guardians, as the herdsmen are known. This takes place in Arles, culminating in games and processions in the arena of the ancient Roman amphitheatre.
Music Offenbach: Intermezzo from The Tales of Hoffmann
Jacques Offenbach (1819–1880) takes us back to an earlier generation, in particular the heyday of the operetta in Paris in the middle of the 19th century. His essentially more serious opera, The Tales of Hoffmann, was left unfinished at his death in 1880. It is based on stories by ETA Hoffmann, transformed into amorous episodes in that writer’s life. The Intermezzo is an entr’acte from the opera.
The Camargue is separated from the sea by dunes. On the coast itself is the fishing-village of Port Camargue, here providing an evocative nocturnal scene.
Music Debussy: Clair de lune
Debussy was haunted by his Clair de lune (Moonlight), which proved far too popular for his liking. It formed part of his Suite bergamasque of 1905.
Corniche de l’Estérel • Cannes
The word corniche indicates a shelf-like road on the side of steep rocky hill. The Corniche de l’Estérel is the road that runs along the coastal side of the Massif of the same name from St-Raphaël and was built in 1903. Cannes, further to the east, is an established coastal resort that became fashionable first in the 19th century and now hosts a major international film festival, among other such events.
Music Fauré: Pavane, Op 50
Fauré’s Pavane, again with a title evoking an earlier world, was written in 1887 and is scored for a small orchestra.
Nautilus Aquarium, Cannes
Among the attractions of Cannes, in addition to its beaches, hotels, casinos and convention centre, is its interesting aquarium.
Music Offenbach: Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann
Offenbach’s famous Barcarolle sets the scene of the third act of the opera The Tales of Hoffmann, which is in Venice.
The town of Fréjus lies some 25 miles to the west of Cannes and now nearly a mile away from the coast. It was founded by the Romans in about 50 BC as Forum Julii, designed to replace the port of Marseille, after the latter town had taken the side of Pompey in the Roman civil war. Fréjus, set in a characteristic landscape, contains significant Roman remains.
Music Fauré: Berceuse, Op 16
Fauré’s Berceuse, an evocative cradle-song, was originally intended for violin and piano but orchestrated in 1898.
The ancient walled town of Aigues-Mortes, its name suggesting stagnant water, is now some four miles from the sea. It was established by Louis IX, the St Louis whose statue now stands in the main square, as a port from which he might embark on a crusade to Cyprus in 1248 and again on a final crusade to Tunis in 1270. The walls have towers and five gates flanked each by two towers. The Tour de Constance served, in its time, as a prison and as quarters for soldiers and officers. The ramparts were erected in 1272 by Philippe le Hardi, but by the 15th century Aigues-Mortes was losing its importance, although it remained subject to later hostilities.
Music Saint-Saëns: Danse macabre
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835–1921) was a composer of inexhaustible talent and a gifted pianist from childhood. He taught Fauré, with whom he established a lasting friendship, but by the time of his death in 1921 the world in which he had flourished had changed. His Danse macabre, a dance of death, was written in 1874 and offers a remarkable and characteristically witty re-creation of the sinister dance, enlivened by the eerie rattling of dry bones.
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