|About this Recording
8.557607 - IBERT: Macbeth / Golgotha / Don Quichotte
Jacques Ibert (1890–1962)
Don Quichotte 1933
Like his friend and contemporary Arthur Honegger, Jacques Ibert enjoyed in his lifetime a considerable reputation. There is, however, something relatively disproportionate when we examine the discography and bibliography of the two composers. Generally lbert’s music sounds less “modern” than Honegger’s and his brilliant use of orchestral colour makes him rather a companion of Ravel than of Roussel, although this judgement may apply only to the works of Ibert in contemporary repertoire, the Divertissement, Escales and the Flute Concerto. The rediscovery of the score for Macbeth shows a facet of Ibert that allies him almost with the avant-garde, contradicting the standard opinion of his style, expressed by some writers, as never developing throughout his career.
Before he devoted himself definitively to music, lbert wanted to become an actor and might have become a very talented one, if we may judge from earlier photographs of the composer. It is clear that a certain dramatic gift found expression in his music, as evinced particularly by the music he wrote for the theatre. In addition to orchestral and chamber music, he wrote six operas (two serious and four comic), seven ballets, a dramatic cantata, incidental music for six stage works and four radio scores. His name appears in the credits of some thirty films and some documentaries, but, as in the case of Honegger, these contributions are not all full-length scores. Circus is a good example of Ibert’s abilities as a composer for both film and ballet, a score commissioned for Gene Kelly in MGM’s 1956 production of Invitation to the Dance. This music was his only film score on record since the early issue of the Quatre chansons de Don Quichotte. For two years Ibert had earned a living for himself by playing the piano for silent films and by writing, under the pseudonym of William Berty, popular songs and dance music. Among the French directors who commissioned film scores from him were Maurice Tourneur, Raymond Bernard, Jacques de Baroncelli, Marcel L’Herbier, and Pierre Chénal, for whom Honegger also worked. Curiously, although lbert and Honegger collaborated on two operas, L’Aiglon and Les petites Cardinal, they never worked together on a film score, while Honegger collaborated with other composers. In common with other European film composers of the time, both men insisted on undertaking their own orchestrations.
After considering composers like Manuel de Falla, Darius Milhaud and Marcel Delannoy, Pabst asked Maurice Ravel to write songs for Chaliapin, but Ravel could not meet the deadline set. Ibert’s orchestral versions used in the sound-track of the film were recorded on 78 rpm discs in 1933 by Chaliapin, with the composer conducting, providing a moving historical document. With a slight modification that omitted the extended instrumental introduction to the Chanson du duc, these songs were published shortly afterwards. The present 1990 recording seems to be the first stereophonic version of this orchestral version, although the piano version has been recorded on various occasions by distinguished singers. It is not clear why the texts set by Ravel are different from those set by lbert.
The Quatre chansons call for an ensemble of only five instruments in the first song and full orchestra in the rest, except for occasional variation in the use of wind and percussion instruments. The overall orchestration provides solo parts for saxophone, bassclarinet, tuba, guitar and/or cembalo, timpani, harp and vibraphone, with single wind and a string section reduced in numbers. The vocal line, set in a discreet and sophisticated Spanish mood, makes this cycle a masterpiece in the repertoire of French song. These inspired verses by Alexandre Amoux and Pierre de Ronsard are in perfect accordance with Pabst’s poetic conception and have additional independent poetic value.
Chanson du départ (Ronsard)
Chanson à Dulcinée (Arnoux)
Chanson du Duc (Arnoux)
Chanson de la mort (Arnoux)
Chanson de Sancho
Paul Morand’s and Alexandre Arnoux’s words in the printed version differ slightly from the texts finally sung in the film, but the first were used here, and translated they mean:
In this inn, away from Señora Panza, Chivalry is a fine life! Let’s liberate Princesses and Highnesses, let’s spear sheep and treacherous prisoners! Goodbye to fear, let’s put down our spears and carouse: thank God, the police will not come here! Long live my island! Why should I care? All these fat sausages and the wine of Manzanilla are for Sancho Panza!
Ibert’s score is very demanding and dramatic. It plays an important part in a picture containing long sequences almost without dialogue. A few choral sections, including a finale based on a chorus by Handel, also occur and Ibert found it appropriate to use the Dies irae in the two last movements, as Berlioz had done in his Symphonie fantastique. The orchestra includes saxophone, bass-clarinet and a large percussion section as well as the usual strings and wind, and two ondes martenot. The version recorded here is a suite assembled by Ibert himself, using various unaltered cues, but played by a larger ensemble. The original wind section which consisted of solo instruments, in accordance with the standard concession film composers had to make towards the primitive sound possibilities of the thirties, was therefore doubled when necessary, and the part of the second martenot re-arranged into sections for bass-clarinet, tuba and vibraphone. The original ad libitum wind effects played by the ondes martenot in the last movement were reduced to a few specific interventions. The present writer also found it appropriate to subdivide the score into more single episodes, where this was not always clearly indicated in the manuscript. An eight-minute cut, containing some of the most exciting music, and the crossing-out of the final quotation of the opening fanfare, following the lovely funeral procession à la Satie, were restored, in order to give the suite a cyclic unity. Although this score was never performed in concert, we are sure that the composer would have approved these small editorial suggestions, including subsequent titles for each movement. The original soundtrack was recorded by the Orchestre Walther Straram, conducted by Maurice Jaubert.
A letter by Ibert to Leeds Music on 20 November 1950, lists those cues which could eventually be included, (without further changes), in a suite, with their corresponding titles; but apparently, nothing further was undertaken by either party. A photocopy of the original manuscript was supplied for this recording and the orchestral material had to be newly prepared.
Macbeth was composed in 1948 in Rome (where Ibert was living then with his family, as director of the French Academy at the Villa Medici and as a naval attaché of the French embassy), and recorded by the local symphony orchestra, conducted by Efrem Kurtz. For many reasons, this work is outstanding, but a detailed analysis would be beyond our present scope. A most interesting aspect is the inclusion of a breathing choir (almost inaudible on the historical soundtrack), in the witches’ scenes, set against eerie parts for piano, harp, celesta and percussion with string harmonics. One is tempted to ask oneself why Ibert did not write heavier music for such sequences, but we are faced with a sophisticated contrapuntal setting of a terrifying image. In other places, where the music sounds extremely dramatic, cheap emphatic clichés are avoided, although Ibert’s manuscript is full of precise cue indications. A drinking sequence in the throne-room preceding Banquo’s murder, is conceived in a grotesque basstuba solo, echoed by the gurgles of the bassoons, and double-bassoon and by rhythmic figures for the strings. The triumphant, but rather savage-sounding March, heard in the main title, reappears in different moods during the action, and in the army scene it is contrasted, in the original soundtrack only, with an out-of-tune ensemble of bagpipes. This march theme can be identified with the conspiracy against Macbeth’s reign of crime and darkness.
The orchestration of Macbeth also requires piano, celesta, vibraphone, harp and a large percussion battery, including Millboard-bells, tabor and Chinese gongs. All wind instruments which are usually doubled in a symphony orchestra, figure already in this form in the original soundtrack, besides a slightly smaller string section, which was obviously enlarged for the present recording.
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