About this Recording
8.557274 - BERLIOZ: Nuits d'été (Les) / CHAUSSON: Poeme de l'amour et de la mer / DUKAS: La peri
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Ernest Chausson (1855-1899): Poème de l’amour et de la mer
Paul Dukas (1865-1935): La péri
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869): Les nuits d’été

Brought up in cultured adult surroundings, Ernest Chausson acquired wide artistic interests. He was induced by his family to study and qualify as a lawyer, although he never practised as an advocate, instead turning his attention to music. He joined Massenet’s class in orchestration at the Conservatoire in 1879, while informally attending the influential classes of César Franck. Failure to win the Prix de Rome in 1881 led him to discontinue formal instruction, while the influence of Wagner exercised a further influence on his work as a composer. With a private income, he was able to lead a life that allowed travel, and association with leading writers, musicians and artists of the time, after his marriage in 1882 and honeymoon at Bayreuth. He died in 1899 as the result of a cycling accident.

Chausson’s Poème de l’amour et de la mer (Poem of Love and of the Sea) was written during the years from 1882 to 1890 and revised in 1893. It is a dramatic setting of poems by Maurice Bouchor, whose verses had provided texts for a number of songs by Chausson, including a group of translations by Bouchor from Shakespeare. The work opens with La fleur des eaux (The flower of the waters), with music that reflects the tranquil romantic mood of the poem, the air filled by the scent of lilacs. The music mounts to a rhapsodic climax, before tranquillity intervenes, and the strings introduce the simplicity of Et mon coeur s’est levé par ce matin d’été. A transition leads to a slower passage, Quel son lamentable et sauvage, as the mood changes, reaching a further climax, before a rhapsodic conclusion. The Interlude is marked Lent et triste (Slow and sad), opening with a bassoon melody, continued briefly by a solo cello, before the mood lightens, to end, as it began, in C minor. La mort de l’amour (The Death of Love) is first marked Vif et joyeux (Lively and joyful), as the singer greets the approach to the island. This leads, with passing ecstasy, to a passage marked Sombre et solennel, now in G minor, the memory of love now dead. The movement ends with Le temps des lilas (The time of lilacs), a section to be published separately, mourning for the death of love.

A friend of Debussy and pupil of Bizet’s friend Guiraud, Paul Dukas came very near to winning the important Prix de Rome, but left the Paris Conservatoire to embark on an early career as a critic and orchestrator. His acute critical sense led him to destroy many of his own compositions, but he remained an important figure in French musical life and a highly respected teacher. He is popularly known for his symphonic scherzo after Goethe, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, choreographed as a ballet in 1916 in Petrograd by Fokine.

La péri (The Fairy), a poème dansé, was written in 1911 and 1912, choreographed by the Russian dancer Ivan Clustine, ballet-master at the Paris Opéra, before he joined Pavlova’s company in 1914. The work was dedicated to Natalia Trouhanova, who danced the first performance in 1912, a dancer influenced by the free dance style of Isadora Duncan. A Fanfare precedes the poème itself, and its music, with themes identified with Iskender and with the Fairy, follows the scenario:

It happened that, as his youth came to an end, the Magi having observed that his star was growing pale, Iskender travelled through Iran, seeking the Flower of Immortality. The sun dwelt three times in its twelve houses without him finding it, until he came finally to the ends of the Earth, to the point where it joined the sea and the clouds. And there, on the steps that lead to the court of Ormuzd, a Fairy lay, sleeping in her jewelled robe. A star shone above her head, her lute rested on her bosom and in her hand the Flower shone. And it was a lotus like the emerald, undulating like the sea in the morning sun. Iskender leant noiselessly over the Sleeper, and, without waking her, stole the Flower, which suddenly became, in his fingers, like the noonday sun on the forests of Ghilan. But the Fairy, opening her eyes, clapped her hands together and cried out, for she could not now mount again to the light of Ormuzd. Meanwhile Iskender, looking at her, admired her face that surpassed in delight even that of Gurdaferrid. And he desired her in his heart, so that the Fairy knew the King’s thought, for in the hand of Iskender the lotus grew purple and became like the face of desire. Thus the servant of the Pure knew that this flower of Life was not destined for him, and she leapt forward to take it back, as light as a bee, while the Invincible Lord drew the Lotus away from her, divided between his thirst for immortality and the delight of his eyes. But the Fairy danced the dance of the Fairies, always coming nearer, until her face touched Iskender’s, and finally he gave it to her, without regret. Then the lotus seemed of snow and of gold like the height of Elbourz in the evening sun. The form of the Fairy seemed to melt into the light from the calyx and soon nothing could be seen except a hand, lifting up the flower of flame that vanished into the sky above. Iskender saw her disappear, and understanding that this signified his coming end, he felt the shadow encircle him.

Hector Berlioz was born in the French province of Isère, the son of a doctor, in a family of some local substance. As a child he was taught principally by his father, and was swayed by various enthusiasms, including an overwhelming urge towards music that led him to compose. In Paris he eventually abandoned his medical studies, undertaken at his father’s insistence, turning, instead, to music. He had not been idle as a composer, but he prudently took lessons from Lesueur, whose Conservatoire class he entered in 1826.

In 1829 Berlioz saw Shakespeare’s Hamlet for the first time, with Charles Kemble as the Prince and the Irish actress Harriet Smithson as Ophelia. The experience was overwhelming and in the season he had the opportunity to see much more, sharing in the popular adulation of Harriet Smithson, with whom he fell violently in love, at first to be rejected, leading to his autobiographical Symphonie Fantastique. It was only after his return from Rome, where final victory in the Prix de Rome had allowed him to spend two years, and when her popularity began to wane, that she agreed to be his wife, a match that brought neither of them much happiness.

In the following years Berlioz remained an outsider to the French musical establishment. He earned a living as a critic, while as a composer and conductor he won more distinction abroad. Both then and in later years he was seen as the very type of an individual genius, the romantic artist, driven to excess by enthusiasms and paranoid in reaction to criticism or opposition, as his Mémoires show. After the death of his wife in 1854 he was able to marry the singer Marie Recio, with whom he had enjoyed a relationship already of some twelve years. Her sudden death in 1862 and that of his son Louis, a naval officer, in 1867, saddened his final years. He died in 1869.

Berlioz’s literary interests are apparent in his songs and choral works. For Les nuits d’été (The Nights of Summer), a group of songs rather than a unified cycle, he chose to set verses by the romantic poet and writer Théophile Gautier, a near neighbour in Paris, whose poems La comédie de la mort (The Comedy of Death) were published in 1838, although it is said that Berlioz may have read some of these in manuscript and set them before the completion of the set of songs in 1841. Written for mezzo-soprano or tenor and piano the original songs were dedicated to Louise Bertin, daughter of Louis Bertin, editor of the Journal des débats, to which Berlioz was a contributor, and composer of four operas of romantic ambition but varied success. It was in 1843 that Berlioz orchestrated the fourth song, Absence, for his mistress Marie Recio, his marriage now at an end, and the other songs, on the suggestion of a publisher, were orchestrated for publication in 1856, now variously dedicated.

The first of the set, Villanelle, a celebration of spring and love, was dedicated to Louise Wolf, Chamber Singer to the Archduchy of Weimar, where Liszt had seen to the performance of music by Berlioz. It reflects the spirit of the poem. Le spectre de la rose (The Spectre of the Rose) was dedicated to the Gotha contralto Anna- Rose Falconi, whom he had heard in London, specifically for a concert of his music in Gotha. The poem, later the inspiration for Fokine’s ballet, danced, famously, by Karsavina and Nijinsky, tells of a girl’s dreams of the ghost of the rose she had worn to the ball the previous evening. For the orchestral version Berlioz added an introduction for muted solo cello, flute and clarinet, including a harp in the orchestration. Sur les lagunes: Lamento (On the Lagoons: Lament), with its dark-coloured textures, imbued with melancholy, was dedicated to the Weimar singer Feodor von Milde. Gautier’s original title was Lamento: La chanson du pêcheur (Lament: The Fisherman’s Song), and there is a suggestion in the accompaniment of the movement of the waves. The rhetorical Absence, dedicated to the Hanover singer Madeleine Nottès, who had sung Marguerite in his Faust there in 1853, pleads for the return of the beloved. Dedicated to the tenor Caspari in Weimar, Au cimetière: Clair de lune (At the Cemetery: Moonlight), is a further lament, its intense sadness dispelled by L’île inconnue (The Unknown Island), dedicated to Rosa von Milde of Weimar, setting a poem with the original title Barcarolle. The song suggests the unattainable, a place where love might be eternal.

Keith Anderson

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