|About this Recording
8.574005 - AUBER, D.-F.: Overtures - Le maçon / Leicester / Le séjour militaire / La neige (Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra, Pardubice, D. Salvi)
Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782–1871)
Daniel-François-Esprit Auber, the most amiable French composer of the 19th century, reflected his balanced temperament and very particular Parisian elegance in his musical attitudes. His overtures, once as famous as those of Rossini and Suppé, use the abridged non-sonataallegro popularised by Rossini. Here the development section is either omitted, or truncated, replaced by brief sequential passages leading from the dominant area of the second theme group back to the tonic for the recapitulation, then building up to an exciting crescendo and brilliant coda. Auber’s rhythmic dash is based on the universal dance rhythms of the age. Most of his opérascomiques are scored for Rossini’s orchestra: piccolo, woodwinds in pairs, four horns, two trumpets, trombones, timpani, snare drum, triangle, bass drum, cymbals, harp and strings. In this recording attention is given to the French style of playing (double dotted rhythms, sharp staccato), and remains as close as possible to the original metronome markings.
Le Maçon (1825)
1 Overture (G minor, 4/4 – G major, 6/8)
This was the first of Auber’s mature opéras-comiques, an international success, characterised by an Italianate sparkle with French grace and lyricism. It is a variant on the rescue opera, so topical since the French Revolution. The story, set in Paris during the Restoration, concerns a mason and a locksmith, abducted from the former’s wedding celebrations and coerced into helping incarcerate a young Greek girl Irma in the Turkish embassy. Instead, they facilitate her liberation with her lover, the dashing Léon. The Overture reflects the dark underside of this story, opening with the music of the imprisonment, an oppressive minor key atmosphere, with unsettling initial diminished seventh chords, sustained pedal points, and strong chromatic inflexions. This is contrasted with the bright main subject, a spritely unison duet for flute and bassoon, celebrating the friendship of Roger and Baptiste, and highlighting the mason’s heroic saving actions, past and present. Related themes dominate the development and brilliant bustling coda. The opera, given 525 times until 1896, became popular in Germany (as ‘Maurer und Schlosser’) into the 1930s.
2 The Act III Entr’acte reprises the dark dungeon motifs of the overture, leading to a rushing coda.
3 The Act II Melodrama presents a serious dialogue between the two artisans conducted over solemn string harmonies.
Le Timide, ou Le Nouveau Séducteur (1826)
4 Overture (C major, 3/8 – 6/8)
This was the least successful of all Auber’s operas, with only 14 performances. The slight one-act scenario presents a Regency plot of misunderstanding and poorly articulated intention (owing to social shyness or timidity). At the end everything is cleared up, with Valmont winning the widowed Mme d’Hérancy and Saint-Ernest winning Amélie. A static conversational orientation in the drama underscores a lack of musical variety. The Overture, however, reflects the composer’s usual charm and imagination. It commences with a calm woodwind theme over harp, taken over by the clarinets in thirds. The higher woodwinds begin a transition to a fast moving, smooth string melody over emphatic horn rhythms. The orchestra bursts into a transition to the second melody with falling runs, answered by clarinet and flute cascades in thirds. There is a reprise before the dramatic development section. The clarinet melody is repeated, initiating the bright coda.
Leicester, ou Le Château de Kenilworth (1823)
5 Overture (D major, 4/4 – 3/4 – 4/4)
This opera marked a milestone in Auber’s career, being the first of his 38 collaborations with the famous librettist, Eugène Scribe (1791–1861). The story is based on Sir Walter Scott’s historical novel (1821) about Queen Elizabeth I’s state visit to her special friend Robert Dudley at Kenilworth Castle in 1575. Despite Leicester’s attempts at concealing his marriage to Amy Robsart, the Queen learns the truth and chooses Walter Raleigh as her favourite instead. The opera reflects Rossini’s influence in its Italianate idiom. It is dominated by the figure of Queen Elizabeth, sketched in strong brushstrokes, as her majestic dotted entrance motif suggests.
This Overture strikes a grander tone, appropriate to the regal subject. The dramatic opening chords and falling woodwind figures are followed by a slow dotted melody with Celtic overtones, perhaps the composer’s attempt at a musical interpretation of Britain. A clarinet theme over strings follows, leading into the transition featuring bassoons and horns, punctuated with loud chords alternating between bass and treble. The principal twopart melody ensues, a bright, infectiously skipping Gallic theme on clarinets, horns and harp, with semiquavers and double-dotted crotchets providing a ‘Scotch snap’. Auber used the harp very sparingly, and here it instils an atmosphere of romance. The elegant string writing leads to a reprise with stronger harp line. A short development presents a second Celtic idea, with a rising, questioning melody. Runs on the woodwind and rushing strings with melody in the bass build up excitement. The first theme returns in stronger orchestration, then the second, both with prominent harp part. The coda is bright and developmental.
6 The rapid Act III Entr’acte with iterative bass line generates an air of mystery.
Le Séjour militaire (1813)
7 Overture (D major, 4/4)
The scene is Alsace, near Strasbourg, around 1810. A group of bored French officers conspire to make fun of a wealthy provincial, who is coming to Alsace to marry a local belle, by disguising themselves as the bride’s family. This pièce militaire et carnavalesque (words by Jean-Nicolas Bouilly), is a chamber opera (for woodwinds, horns and strings), and marked Auber’s stage debut (aged 31). The public received the work coldly, and the composer consequently shunned the musical scene for several years. In this first overture Auber is attentive to his musical education. After a hesitant introduction for bright chords, a military mood is established, a gentle march, building into a Rossinian crescendo, the two themes developed with remarkable counterpoint, reflecting the influence of his teacher Cherubini. The recapitulation leads into a vivacious coda, a characteristic of Auber’s style from the very first.
Emma, ou La Promesse imprudente (1821)
8 Overture (F major, 4/4 – alla breve)
Set in Restoration Germany, the opera (words by Eugène de Planard) tells of the benevolent actions of Mme Palmer, a wealthy widow, whose generosity enables Edmond and Emma to marry for love rather than gain. The Overture, presenting a Tyrolienne and Emma’s final aria, sets a folksy tone. Arresting dotted chords move into a rustic dance for strings, clarinets and horns. The second subject reflects the noble characters, with a gravitas underscored by dotted figures and chromatic colouring. A third melody emerges, a droning bagpipe imitation with gurgling clarinets, giving way to busy strings. The development sees the first two themes returning, with prominent woodwind writing. The third theme, with busy strings over an emphatic 4/4 bass, leads into the coda, presenting the first melody in accelerated time. This work, full of emotion and sensibility, confirmed the composer’s growing reputation.
9 The Act II Entr’acte features horns and clarinets in a galloping rhythm, meditative fanfares prominent throughout, with clarinets, trilled flutes and the bagpipe motif.
10 The Act III Entr’acte unfolds an extended, reflective lullaby and bell-like motifs.
La Neige, ou Le Nouvel Éginard (1823)
11 Overture (E flat major, 3/4)
Set in a German princely court in Swabia during the Restoration, the story tells how Louise and Linsberg are, through the agency of Baroness de Wedel, eventually able to marry, despite ambitious plans to hinder their love. The title comes from a scene where Linsberg is taken secretly across a frozen lake to see Louise. The opera became very popular, its concise, elegant, spritely Overture capturing something quintessential of Auber’s brilliant rushing style, revealing his own musical voice growing in imaginative self-confidence. It combines the élan of pointed march rhythms (so typical of many of the composer’s later works) with a tender romantic mood in melody. Bright calls are followed by a meditative passage for clarinet and bassoon, then the strings moving into pizzicato. An alert melody follows with strong woodwind writing, then rapid string figurations. The third theme is brilliant, a breathless waltz movement in thirds, with dashing woodwinds over strings. This builds up to the truncated development, leading via a transition to the second and third melodies, and a fast coda with the second theme in accelerated time.
12 The Act III Entr’acte presents a folksy ländler for strings and woodwind, moving to a second subject, with descending runs, emphatic chords, and a brisk, brilliant coda.
Le Testament et les Billets doux (1819)
13 Overture (E flat major, 4/4)
The composer’s fourth work, another chamber opera (words by Eugène de Planard), is somewhat lacking in colour, and again did not win public attention. Nonetheless, this Overture is a delicate fantasia for the strings playing on tiptoe, with splashes of horn harmonies, and some delicate woodwind writing towards the end. After an elegant and developed opening, a more serious second subject is presented, with rapid figuration for the strings, an enduring feature of Auber’s style. A bouncy, third melodic sequence, with prominent writing for the bass line, leads to the recapitulation and a distinctly Haydnesque coda.
La Bergère châtelaine (1820)
14 The strutting Act II Entr’acte is bright, with prominent trumpets.
15 The Act III Entr’acte presents an elegant, dance movement for clarinets with strong woodwind writing, before the strings take over, generating a sense of excitement.
16 Overture (D major, 3/4 – D minor, 2/4 – D major)
Auber’s first significant opera (libretto by Eugène de Planard) is set in Brittany during the Middle Ages, a slight pastoral tale about a shepherdess, Lucette, who is really from a noble family, and so eligible to marry the Count de Monfort who loves her. The piece includes some old fashioned lais, and shows imitation of Rossini. The Overture does not use material from the opera, but in the buffa tradition of Mozart, sets the appropriate mood. Two worlds are contrasted, one of pastoral simplicity, representing the vivacious heroine; and another of aristocratic grace, with recurring fanfares, suggesting Lucette’s real identity. A solemn introduction for the woodwinds, followed by horn calls, answered in descending treble figures, leads into a sprightly theme, with an iterated knocking motif. The two ideas are elaborated, and repeated with crescendo. A strong third subject, with a tic-tac accompaniment imitating the movement of a mill wheel, leading into powerful fanfares, is subjected to a truncated development. The recapitulation presents fresh orchestral detail, the coda augmenting the fanfares. The Duc de Berry, present at the premiere (19 days before his assassination on 13 February 1820), signalled the applause: Auber was now a popular composer of opéra-comique.
Robert Ignatius Letellier
Letellier, Robert Ignatius: Daniel-François-Esprit Auber. The Man and His Music. (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010.) – The Overtures of Daniel-François-Esprit Auber. (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2011.)
The sheet music used in this recording was edited by Dario Salvi and is now available on Naxos Sheet Music Publishing: https://publishing.naxos.com/collections/ daniel-francois-esprit-auber-sheet-music
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