About this Recording
8.553027 - BIZET: Symphony in C Major / Jeux d'enfants

Georges Bizet (1838 - 1875)

Symphony in C major
Jeux d'enfants, Petite suite d'orchestre
Scénes bohémiennes (from La jolie fille de Perth)

Georges Bizet was born in Paris in 1838, the son of a singing-teacher. He entered the Conservatoire at the age of ten and even in childhood had some lessons, at least, from Charles Gounod, and later became a pupil of Fromental Halévy, a prolific composer of opera, whose daughter, subject like her mother to intermittent bouts of mental instability, he married in 1869. Ludovic Halévy, a cousin, collaborated on the libretto for Carmen. As a student Bizet won the expected successes, culminating in 1857 in the first prize in the Prix de Rome, followed by three years at the Villa Medici, in accordance with the terms of the award, modified to allow him to remain in Rome for the final year, rather than move to Germany. In Paris, where he returned in September 1860 on receiving news of his mother's illness, he earned a living by hack-work for the theatre and for publishers, interspersed with more ambitious undertakings, including Les pêcheurs des perles (The Pearl-Fishers), staged with moderate success at the Opéra-Comique in 1863, followed, in 1867, by La jolie fille de Perth at the Théâtre-Lyrique. In 1872 the opera Djamileh, mounted at the Opéra-Comique, was a failure, as was the original score for the melodrama L'arlésienne, a collaboration with Alphonse Daudet. He won a lasting although largely posthumous success with the opera Carmen, staged, after considerable difficulty, in 1875 and running at the time of Bizet's sudden death in the same year.

Bizet started work on his only completed symphony on 29th October 1855, completing the work in the following month. His achievement is all the more remarkable in view of his age at the time, seventeen, and his status as a Conservatoire student still two years away from a first prize in the Prix de Rome. The symphony remained unperformed, the score passed by the composer's widow, Geneviéve Bizet, to Reynaldo Hahn, who thought little of it. Its discovery in 1933, after Hahn had deposited these and other papers in the Conservatoire, led to a first performance in 1935 under Weingartner and continuing popularity as a part of standard classical orchestral repertoire.

Classical in form and general texture, Bizet's Symphony in C opens with an Allegro vivo in tripartite sonata-allegro form and an Adagio that brings a winning oboe solo and a central fugal section. There is a perfectly formed scherzo and trio and a finale that gives a foretaste of Carmen in the opening of its principal subject.

The set of twelve pieces for piano duet that constitute Jeux d'enfants was written in 1871 and from the set a shorter orchestral suite was derived in the same year, making use of five of the six or seven that Bizet had orchestrated. The Petite suite d'orchestre starts with a Trompette et tambour: Marche trumpet and drum, followed by La poupée: Berceuse, a doll's cradle-song. The third of the five pieces is La toupie: Impromptu, the top, leading to Petit mari, petite femme: Duo, little husband, little wife, and a final Le bal: Galop.

The so-called Scènes bohémiennes, gypsy scenes, are taken from the second act of Bizet's opera La jolie fille de Perth, derived from Sir Walter Scott's novel The Fair Maid of Perth. Bizet had signed a contract for the opera in July 1867 and it was ready for performance on 26th December in the same year. The story concerns the love of Henry Smith and Catherine Glover and its vicissitudes caused by the jealousy of Catherine's father's apprentice Ralph and by the far more dangerous rivalry of the Duke of Rothesay. Intervening in the story is the gypsy Mab, a former mistress of the Duke, to whose presence in the plot the gypsy scenes are due. Whatever the shortcomings of the opera itself, the excerpts give a fair idea of Bizet's gifts both as a composer and in orchestration, with a delicately scored Prélude, a stirring Marche and an exotic Gypsy Dance, introduced by flute and harp.

New Zealand Symphony Orchestra
The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the country's leading arts organisation, is based in Wellington, but performs regularly throughout the country. Formed in 1946, the orchestra was until 1988 part of the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand, but thereafter has enjoyed independence as a Crown Owned Entity, with a Board of Directors appointed by the Government. The Chief Conductor, appointed in 1990, is Franz-Paul Decker. Now with some ninety players, the orchestra gives some 120 concerts a year, in addition to its work in the theatre and in television, broadcasting and recording studios. Foreign tours include performance at the Seville Expo in 1992 with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, one of a long line of distinguished musicians, from Stravinsky to John Dankworth, who have appeared with the orchestra.

Donald Johanos
Donald Johanos has been Music Director and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra since 1979, establishing a reputation for high standards and musical excitement that has carried the orchestra to new levels of growth and development. The Composer in Residence grant awarded to the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra was directly attributed to his championing of contemporary works, citing him as "an extraordinary advocate for American music." The first place award given to the Symphony by ASCAP in 1991 also cited him for "adventuresome programming of contemporary music."

In 1962 Donald Johanos was appointed music director and principal conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, and in 1970 he became associate conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. His guest conducting engagements include the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York, Lisbon's Golden Festival, the Paris Opèra and performances with orchestras including the Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and the National Symphony. His international appearances have included Amsterdam, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and Mexico and his recording of Glière's Symphony No.3 in B Minor, Op. 42 with the Czecho-Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) is also available on the Marco Polo label.

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