About this Recording
8.223508 - IBERT: La Ballade de la Geole / Trois Pieces de Ballet / Suite Elisabethaine

Jacques Ibert (1890- 1962)

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)


After his musical training at the Paris Conservatoire under Gabriel Fauré and André Gédalge, the second of whom also had Arthur Honegger and Darius Milhaud as his pupils, and further studies with Paul Vidal and Nadia Boulanger, Jacques Ibert settled at the Académie de France at the Villa Medici in Rome, an institution of which he held the post of director from 1937 until 1960. During the second World War, after serving as an officer in the French navy, he returned to Rome. Later, without resigning his position at the Villa Medici, he took the position of director of the Paris Opéra from 1955 to 1956 and was nominated in the latter year to the Institut de France.


Ibert's personality and work are striking in their great artistic freedom and variety of styles. A composer lying in style somewhere between neo-impressionism, neo-classical and modern tendencies he produced an impressive list of works, including operas, ballets, stage and film scores, symphonic, chamber and vocal compositions. He can be considered a true musical exponent of the esprit of Paris, although some of his more serious works reveal a more cosmopolitan facet of his personality. His orchestral skill makes him a major, but today still relatively unexplored representative of the French music of the twentieth century.


In an interview Ibert gave some indication of his method of work: "In each of my works there is an emotive shock that gave me the starting-point of inspiration, but this shock is only useful if it can become a true emotion. If this happens, my attitude is not to feel this emotion passively, but to become master of it and re-create it accordingly". His artistic credo he expressed as follows: "What I like to do is what others do not...I avoid every theoretical scheme of which I might become a slave and write only according to the demands of my own sensitivity: truth in art is what touches and emotion has its own boundless time".


La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading


Eyebrows would have been raised at the Opéra Comiquein 1937 at the notion of a ballet set in Reading Gaol, not to mention at the author of the poem that inspired the ballet and the background of his personal experiences as a convict. The way Jacques Ibert understood and transmitted Oscar Wilde¡¦s humanitarian message with its moving account of the harsh prison atmosphere, dominated by the story of a man who murdered his beloved, astonished and impressed that first audience against all expectation.


Ibert originally conceived La Ballade de la Geôle de Reading as a symphonic poem, writing the work between 1920 and 1922. The first performance took place on 22nd October 1922 at the Paris Concerts Colonne, when it was conducted by Gabriel Pierné, to whom it is dedicated. The sections of Wilde's poem in French translation that head the score are as follows:


The Ballad of Reading Gaol

I (Track 1)


He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed. (...)

And so he had to die. (...)

I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every drifting cloud that went

With sails of silver by. (...)

He only looked upon the sun.

And drank the morning air. (...)

For strange it was to see him pass

With a step so light and gay,

And strange it was to see him look

So wistfully at the day,

And strange it was to think that he

Had such a debt to pay.


II (Track 2)


That night the empty corridors

Were full of forms of Fear,

And up and down the iron town

Stole feet we could not hear,

And through the bars that hide the stars

White faces seemed to peer. (¡K)

The hangman, with his little bag,

Went shuffling through the gloom. (...)

The grey cock crew, the red cock crew,

But never came the day:

And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,

In the corners where we lay:

And each evil sprite that walks by night

Before us seemed to play.

They glided past, they glided fast,

Like travellers through a mist:

They mocked the moon in a rigadoon

Of delicate turn and twist,

And with formal pace and loathsome grace

The phantoms kept their tryst. (...)

About, about, in ghostly rout

They trod a saraband:

And the damned grotesques made arabesques,

Like the wind upon the sand! (...)

But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,

As their grisly masque they led,

And loud they sang, and loud they sang,

For they sang to wake the dead.


III (Track 3)


The morning wind went wandering round

The weeping prison-wall: (...)

With sudden shock the prison-clock

Smote on the shivering air,

And from all the gaol rose up a wail

Of impotent despair,

Like the sound that frightened marshes hear

From some leper in his lair. (¡K)

We saw the greasy hempen rope

Hooked to the blackened beam,

And heard the prayer the hangman's snare

Strangled into a scream. (...)

They hanged him as a beast is hanged! (...)

But hurriedly they took him out,

And hid him in a hole.

The warders stripped him of his clothes,

And gave him to the flies. (...)

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,

In silence let him lie:

No need to waste the foolish tear,

Or heave the windy sigh:

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And so he had to die.


(Oscar Wilde)


Ibert's first symphonic work, though still influenced by Debussy, Ravel and Dukas, is an extremely mature and powerful score, masterly in its orchestration. Inform the work is a triptych, built on modal themes. In the first part the cor anglais introduces the main theme, then developed through four sections. The prison and its inhabitants are described, with counterpoint leading to variations of a more expansive and urgent motif, to be identified with the murderer's anguished desires and memories. An eerie interlude for clarinet, harp and celesta, with transparent string writing, suggests the "little tent of blue" in Wilde's poem, and this new motif is developed together with the existing material into a dramatic climax, never losing, here as elsewhere, a predominantly lyrical character. The second part is marked by madness and terror. A Sarabande over a seven-beat rhythm is first developed from a mysterious to an increasingly dramatic mood, strengthened through tremoli of horror, glisdsandi, harmonics and col legno effects into an almost despairing 6/8 Gagliarde, using all the forces of the orchestra. The third part can be considered an epilogue, in which the dark atmosphere of the prison is brought again to a climax, an unceasing cry of pity proclaimed by the whole orchestra. It dissolves into an impressionistic mood, as at the beginning, in which feelings of hope for human pity in this world can eventually be heard in the peaceful bass clarinet and cor anglais reminiscences of the second motif. The Ballade is scored for three flutes, double wood-wind with cor anglais, bass clarinet and double bassoon, four horns, three trumpets, three trombones, tuba, two harps and strings, with a large percussion section.


Trois Pièces de Ballet (Les Rencontres)


The Trois Pièces d eBallet, Les Rencontres, was inspired less specifically than Elgar's Enigma Variations of 25 years before. Ibert's mother, who was a music-lover and a sculptress, kept an artistic salon at her house, where intellectuals and society friends would gather. Ibert decided to portray some of these characteristic guests in music, at first in a set of five piano pieces which he called Rencontres, written in 1921-22. Two years later he orchestrated them and entitled a selection of three numbers Trois Pièces de Ballet. In the case of any stage performance, choreography was left to the imagination of anyone who cared to stage the work, as Nijinska did at the Paris Opéra in 1925. The present recording makes use of the three-part concert suite. Trois Pièces de Ballet foreshadows that colourful and witty mixture of neo-classicism and the music-hall style of the 1920s that the composer would later re-create more specifically in his ballet La Licorne (or The Triumph of Chastity). While Les Bouquetières and Les Bavardes hide themselves behind classical dance forms, Les Créoles reveals itself as a delicate tango. Passing homage to Ravel cannot go unnoticed, especially in some outbursts in Les Bavardes reminiscent of La Valse. In this third and scherzo-like movement the rhythm is an infectious but often changing 5/8. The work opens with a short intrada for distant trumpets and percussion. Although it is scored for a large symphony orchestra, including cor anglais, three bassoons, two harps and percussion, it contains passages suggesting rather the lightness of a chamber ensemble.




Féerique is a short symphonic poem, in the key of E major, composed at Houlgate in Calvados in 1924 and also first performed under Gabriel Pierné. Once again it is an orchestration of an earlier piano composition. As its title reveals, Féerique brings us into a fairy world and is correspondingly orchestrated. Impressionistic in mood, in common with much of Ibert's music of this period. It contains a central section of scherzo-like character, rising to a climax at the recapitulation, in which the original lyrical theme re-appears, culminating in a glowing and rhythmically affirmative tutti. The final harp glissandi signal the breaking of the spell. The orchestral forces employed are almost identical with those of Les Rencontres.


Chant de Folie


An exciting discovery among Ibert's early compositions, Chant de Folie was inspired by the horrors of war which the composer had himself experienced as a young man. It was completed in 1923-24 and dedicated to Sergey Koussevitzky, who performed it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1925. Henri Büsser was responsible for the first performance in Paris a year later. This was Ibert's last envoi de Rome, in accordance with the terms of the Prix de Rome, after the Ballade de la Geôle de Reading, Escales, Féerique and Les Rencontres.


This short and dramatic setting for mixed chorus and large symphony orchestra is based on an implacable and vigorous marching rhythm. At first tonal, the harmonies thicken and increase in dissonance. A central episode sung by a separate group of four sopranos and two contraltos, with the words of Radot's poem (see below, Song of Madness) over the vocalise of the rest of the female voices of the chorus, is of a more visionary character, but is taken over again by the initial nightmarish atmosphere, where the chorus sings wordlessly, as at the beginning, rising again to a dramatic climax. Syncopation plays an important part in this work and the main 4/4 beat is occasionally broken by the intervention of 2/4 or 3/4, in which dissonance brings a suggestion of chaos, an avant-garde element at the period. It seems Arthur Honegger would have loved this piece. Chant de Folie is scored for a large symphony orchestra including percussion, glockenspiel and two harps.


Song of Madness


Deep night closes, the skies are red,

and here they come blood-bespattered.

Empty are their orbits darker than night.

They march in rags, blindly staring,

gashed and bruised are their faces.

Their blood-stained arms extended they rush, in the dark,

and groping they march towards the flaming sky-line,

they forge ahead through the night,

they shout aloud their song of madness.


(Pasteur Vallery-Radot. English version by M.D. Calvocoressi, reprinted by permission of Editions Alphonse Leduc, Paris)


Suite Elisabéthaine


Ibert's music for Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, an interesting discovery, makes a worthy addition to the music for the play by Mendelssohn. The composer compiled the suite from his score for a Marseilles performance of the play in 1942. Four of its movements are neo-classical adaptations of pieces by Elizabethan or post-Elizabethan English composers, John Blow (Prélude), John Bull (Entrée), Orlando Gibbons (Cortège) and Henry Purcell (Final). An additional English theme, the sound of Big Ben, is humorously quoted in Dancerie. In the score it is written, for the first time only, as E-C-E-G instead of E-C-D-G, but the orchestral material has been corrected by musicians who understood Ibert's sense of humour. Further investigation shows a suspiciously Russian tune in the central episode of the Finale. The movements that have no earlier source are more romantic or modern in flavour and include, in Chanson des fées led by a soprano solo, and Nocturne, a small vocalising women's chorus. The whole suite is a virtuoso mixture of styles, including that of the composer himself .The score calls for a larger woodwind chamber ensemble of two flutes, oboe, cor anglais, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, with three horns, three trumpets, trombone, percussion, harp, celesta and a small string ensemble of six violins and three violas. Ibert's Suite Elisabéthaine may take its place by the side of other orchestral suites of the 1920s in ancient style, such as the Antiche Danze ed Arie of Respighi and Stravinsky's Pulcinella.


The Fairies' Song


You spotted snakes with double tongue,

Thorny hedgehogs, be not seen,

Newts and blind-worm, do no wrong,

Come not near our fairy Queen.


Weaving spiders, come not here,

Hence, you long-legg'd spinners, hence,

Beetles black, approach not near,

Worm nor snail do not offence.


Philomel with melody

Sing in our sweet lullaby.

Lulla, lulla, lullaby.

Never harm

Nor spell nor charm

Come our lovely lady nigh.

So good night, with lullaby.

(William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream)


Adriano (edited by Keith Anderson)


Slovak Philharmonic Choir


The Slovak Philharmonic Choir was formed in 1946 from the mixed choir of Radio Bratislava and has performed, over the years, a wide repertoire of music, ranging from the earliest choral works to the work of contemporary composers. The Choir, since 1990 directed by Jan Rozehnal, has performed under some of the most distinguished conductors, from Claudio Abbado and Lorin Maazel to Vaclav Talich and Yuri Temirkanov, and has appeared in concerts and festival performances throughout Europe, in addition to continuing collaboration with the opera-houses of Vienna, Strasbourg, Szeged, Bordeaux and Düsseldorf. Recordings by the Choir include the oratorio The Legend of St. Elizabeth by Liszt for Hungaroton, awarded the Paris Grand Prix du Disque in 1974 and anumber of works for Naxos and Marco Polo.


Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)


The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), the oldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of Milos Ruppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. Ondrej Lenárd was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 its conductor-in-chief, succeeded recently by Robert Stankowsky. The orchestra has given successful concerts both at home and abroad, in Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Hong Kong and Japan. For Marco Polo the orchestra has recorded works by Glazunov, Glière, Miaskovsky and other late romantic composers and film music of Honegger, Bliss, Ibert and Khachaturian as well as several volumes of the label's Johann Strauss Edition. Naxos recordings include symphonies and ballets by Tchaikovsky, and symphonies by Berlioz and Saint-Saëns.




Swiss-born Adriano began his artistic career in the field of the theatre and graphic arts. In music he is largely self-taught, and while still in his twenties was urged by conductors such as Joseph Keilberth and Ernest Ansermet, who recognized his gifts, to embrace a conducting career. Instead he became a composer of stage, film and chamber music and also a record producer for his own label, Adriano Recoeds. In the late 1970s he established himself as a specialist on Ottorino Respighi, organizing a comprehensive exhibition and publishing a discography. He has also orchestrated two song-cycles by Respighi. Other instrumental adaptations by Adriano include songs by Mussorgsky and Ibert. In recent years he has worked as an Italian and French language coach and stage assistant at the Zürich Opera House and its International Opera Studio. His work in the promotion of little known music includes an old Italian version of Telemann's opera Pimpinone, given its first performance in Italy in 1987, and a theatrical prologue that he delivered himself for a production of Galuppi's II filosofo di campagna in Stuttgart in 1988. Adriano now works regularly as a guest conductor with the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra of Bratislava, particularly in an important series of recordings of film music by major twentieth century composers for Marco Polo, for which he has also directed an acclaimed recording of film scores by Ibert. The present CD with concert works by Ibert is Adriano's twelfth recording for Marco Polo.

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