About this Recording
8.223498 - BRUNEAU: Messidor / L'attaque du moulin
English  French 

IAlfred Bruneau (1857 -1934) Entr'acte pour IVe acte de Messidor ~,

Alfred Bruneau (1857-1934)

Entr'acte pour IVe acte de Messidor (Prelude to Ac t IV of Messidor)

La légende de l'or (Messidor) (The Legend of Gold)

Prélude du Naïs Micoulin (Prelude to Naïs Micoulin)

Suite tirée de l'opera L'attaque du moulin (Suite from the opera The Attack on the Mill)


Alfred Louis Charles Bonaventure Bruneau was born in Paris on 3rd March 1857 into an artistic milieu. His mother was a painter and his father played the violin. Later the latter set up a printing business, not far from the Opéra, at No. 7, Rue Meyerbeer. Among other things, he published César Franck's Psyché and La Procession. Alfred Bruneau, who studied the cello, entered the Conservatoire at the age of sixteen as a student of Auguste Franchomme. In 1876 he won first prize for cello and for three years studied harmony with Marie Gabriel Savard, in 1879 becoming a composition pupil of Jules Massenet. After eight years at the Conservatoire, he left in 1881 with a second Grand Prix de Rome for his cantata Geneviève, underlining his inclination towards vocal music after the scène lyrique Jeanne d'Arc, Op. 2, of 1878.


Bruneau's first published works were songs, for voice and piano, with some choral works, Opus 9, Les Petiots, for two female voices on a text by Jean Aichepin and Notre amour for female voices with a contralto solo, a setting of a poem by Armand Silvestre. His first lyric drama, written with a text by Millet and Lavedan, was Kérim. Dating from 1887, it had its first performance on 9th June of that year at the Théâtre lyrique, but there were only three performances. This shows some of the difficulties that are inevitable at the outset of a career. Then, a notable event, in March 1888 he met Zola, through a common friend, Frantz Jourdain.


Zola and Bruneau found mutual esteem and a friendship began, then a collaboration, something that did not please Bruneau's teacher Massenet, who was eager to work on texts by Zola. When Zola entrusted the writing of a lyric drama on La faute de l'abbé Mouret to Bruneau, it turned out that Massenet had already written some themes for the work, which Bruneau then abandoned. Six months later, however, before Le rêve appeared in the bookshops. Bruneau received the proofs from the publisher's. This gave him a start, since hardly had the book appeared when Massenet called on Zola. The latter gives a precise account of the meeting: "This morning Massenet asked me if he might make an opera of it. I replied that I had already entrusted the task to one of his pupils." Bruneau used all his talents to create a remarkable work. Le rêve was staged for the first time on 18th June 1891 at the Opéra comique. This was not yet a collaboration only between Zola and Bruneau. For Le rêve, as for the other lyric drama L'attaque du moulin, Zola asked the librettist Louis Gallet to prepare a text from his work, set to music by Bruneau. From Messidor, first staged on 19th February 1897, onwards, Zola provided the libretto. Once again there was a happy marriage between literature and music, as with Da Ponte and Mozart, and Hugo von Hofmannstahl and Stefan Zweig and Richard Strauss, Paul Claudel and Jean Cocteau together with Darius Milhaud or Richard Wagner with Richard Wagner, marriages without any intermediary, unlike the many settings of works by Shakespeare, Pushkin, Schiller, Victor Hugo and so many others.


The meeting between Zolaand Bruneau resulted not only, technically speaking, in a happy conjunction of talents of the highest order. It was also the occasion of a formidable ideological understanding. It is on this ideological field that the work of Bruneau assumes importance. He was, in fact, the first to put on the operatic as opposed to the comic-opera stage heroes of modest standing. The opera descended from the heights, even if it remained mindful of its mythological figures. With Messidor Bruneau also abandoned a text in verse for one in prose and came nearer to reality, something that was not the case with Bach or Beethoven, who both also used some texts in prose.


"I envisage a drama more directly human, not based on Nordic mythology, but shining out among us, poor men, in the reality of our miseries and joys. I am not asking for opera in frock-coats or even peasant smocks. No, it is enough for me that instead of puppets, of abstractions from legend, we should be given living beings, sharing our happiness and our sufferings. And I should prefer it that the text should have its own interest, like a moving story that someone tells us. It may be dressed in velvet, if required, but there must be men in the story and the whole work must give out a deep cry of humanity. I dream, in other words, of a lyric drama that might be human, without giving up either fantasy, caprice, or mystery." These are not the words of Bruneau but of Zola, and after having quoted them Bruneau wrote: "It will be understood that I am reluctant to add anything to these words."


On 29th April 1901 Ouragan was staged at the Op¡¦era comique. Zola died in 1902, and Bruneau took the blow badly. It took him four years to complete L'Enfant Roi, a lyric comedy (1905) and Lazare, a lyric drama (1905), both using texts by Zola. Based on Zola always, but with texts by Bruneau, Naïs Micoulin appeared in 1907 and La faute de l'abbé Mouret in the same year, with Les quatre journées in 1916. There followed the lighter Le roi Candaule (1920) and Le jardin de paradis (1923), works of the Belle Epoque, the first using a libretto by Maurice Donnay and the second using a poem by Flers and Caillavet based on Hans Andersen. The last two operas of Bruneau that are known are Angelo, tyran de Padoue (1928), based on Victor Hugo, and Virginie (1930), with a libretto by Henri Duvemois.


Bruneau also wrote ballet-scores, with Les bacchantes (1887) based on Euripides, symphonic poems, La belle au bois dormant (1884), Penthésilée (1888), with voice, as well as a great Requiem (1889). From 1900 to 1904 he conducted the orchestra of the Opéra comique. In addition to the various official functions that occupied him as Inspector of Fine Arts, and the missions of inquiry on music that he undertook in Europe - in Russia, in Great Britain, in Spain and in the Low Countries - he served as music critic in the daily press, contributing to Gil Blas for five years, to Figaro for seven and for thirty years to Le Matin. In 1925 Alfred Bruneau succeeded Gabriel Fauré at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. He died on 15th June 1934 in Paris.


A beacon in the career of Bruneau, the socialist and naturalist opera Messidor sealed his friendship with Zola. This work is marked by the courage of Bruneau and Zola who took sides in the Dreyfus affair against the accusations of treason levelled at this officer, against anti-semitism and the procedural defects of a grotesque case.


The Légende de l'or of Messidor is a ballet, originally preceding the drama itself. After the first performance it was moved to a position between Act II and Act III, so as not to disturb the expectations of the Opéra subscribers. In 1917, when it was restaged, the ballet again opened the performance, as the composer had wished. The choreographic theme developed is the antithesis between gold that is found in the river, the image of capitalism, and wheat, which corresponds to labour. In Messidor gold is accused of many evils, creating misery, engendering hatred, destroying families, corrupting love, the sincere opinion of Bruneau that is found even in his articles on the subject, for example his reference to "unscrupulous producers, without dignity, preoccupied solely with success in acquisition and the making of money" (10th January 1902). What is surprising in this realist opera is to find there, among other things, a magic necklace that gives joy and beauty to those who are pure and forces the guilty to confess their crime. It is hardly possible for an element of myth not to appear in lyric drama. Furthermore it is thus easier to understand that Bruneau, a realist composer, was one of the defenders of Wagner.


If Bruneau learned something from Wagner and from Berlioz, their influence are clearly present in this ballet, with a certain emphasis at the beginning and end. With percussion, particularly timpani, brass, organ, Bruneau uses the whole orchestra in a sufficiently original way to counter the common judgement of French music as light in texture and confirm that we are now in a post-Wagnerian era. He sometimes reminds the listener of Mahler in his hymn-like qualities, his changes in tempo, his brilliant use of instruments and the richness of what he provides, even to the single notes of a solo harp. In harmony he is Wagnerian, even if he seeks to distance himself from it. The Prelude to Act IV is both solemn and passionate. Massed brass is supported by a string bass in a slow movement followed by a string crescendo, from which Wagner is not too far distant. In the Prelude to Naïs Micoulin the orchestra sings over a wonderfully developed instrumental canvas. This lyrical quality may be attributed to the influence of Massenet, but to identify the influences, whether of Wagner or of Massenet, is not enough to describe music that is quite original rather than a collection of references to others.


What is peculiar to Bruneau, a composer who never stopped his search for independence and an identity of his own, is his strong inspiration and his marvellous abilily to communicate feeling, qualities found already in L'attaque du moulin and the Suite drawn from it, corresponding to the four acts of the drama. It is in the second of these that the battle takes place after the arrival of the foot-soldiers, fifes and drums. The cello and flute solos reveal the real melodic genius of Bruneau. Although he was above all a dramatic composer, the works offered here, like his symphonic poems, particularly Penthésilée, should also assure him an important place as a symphonist.



Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra


The Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra was established in its present form after the Second World War as the Radio Symphony Orchestra of the South West German Radio of the French Occupied Zone of Germany, in 1946 assuming additional duties at the re-opened Koblenz opera-house. The 1950s brought guest appearances throughout Germany and in other countries of Europe, with an impressive list of guest conductors and soloists. In 1973 the orchestra became the State Orchestra of the Rhineland-Palatinate, with a large number of concert engagements as well as performances by the smaller Sinfonietta formed from the orchestra. The orchestra, which in 1985 moved to its present home in the beautifully restored Görreshaus, continues its association with the opera, with broadcasts and recordings as well as its manifold concert engagements. The present chief conductor of the Rhenish Philharmonic Orchestra is Christian Kluttig.


James Lockhart


The Scottish-born conductor James Lockhart has been Music Director of the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie, based in Koblenz, since 1981, following eight years as Music Director of the Staatstheater Kassel. He studied music at Edinburgh University and at the London Royal College of Music, before starting his professional conducting career as assistant conductor of the BBC Scottish Orchestra, following this with a period in continental opera houses, including the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He has conducted many major British orchestras and has appeared as a guest conductor throughout Germany, in North America, Italy, Poland, Israel, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Japan. James Lockhart was Music Director of the Welsh National Opera for a number of years and has been a frequent guest conductor at the English National Opera and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He has also conducted opera at the New York Metropolitan Opera, in Hamburg, Stuttgart and Munich. In Britain he has recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra for EMI and RCA and has made recordings in Germany with the Rheinische Philharmonie and the Orchestra of the State Theatre, Kassel.

Close the window