|About this Recording
8.574006 - AUBER, D.-F.: Overtures, Vol. 2 - Le concert à la cour / Fiorella / Julie / Violin Concerto (Čepická, Czech Chamber Philharmonic, Pardubice, Salvi)
Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (1782–1871)
Daniel-François-Esprit Auber (Caen, 29 January 1782–Paris, 12/13 May 1871) died in his 89th year, during the Siege of Paris when he and the city suffered greatly. In childhood he learned to play the piano and oboe, and became a skilful singer. Instead of joining his father’s prosperous business as an art dealer, Auber spent some time in England as a banker during the early 1800s. There he learned to speak English, and appears to have had some success in London as a performer and as a composer of romances and quartets. The composer’s lifelong self-discipline and penchant for musical understatement probably derive from his English sojourn. After returning to France at the collapse of the Peace of Amiens in 1803, he was admitted as a composer to the Société académique des Enfants d’Apollon, aged 24 (1806). It was his Violin Concerto, written for Jacques Féraol Mazas (1782–1849) and performed in 1805 that led to this nomination. He went on to study composition with Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842), later director of the Conservatoire in Paris. Upon his teacher’s demise, Auber himself became director. From 1819 he turned to the stage full-time, having met his lifelong collaborator, the brilliant dramatist Eugène Scribe (1791–1861). As the creator of Le Maçon (1825), La Muette de Portici (1828), La Fiancée (1829), Fra Diavolo (1830), Le Domino noir (1837), La Part du Diable (1843) and Haydée (1847) Auber acquired considerable wealth as well as fame. The composer’s reputation slowly declined in the century that followed. Several of his highly melodic, beautifully orchestrated and dramatic overtures, including those for Le Cheval de bronze (1835) and Les Diamants de la couronne (1841), are still occasionally performed today; so too is Fra Diavolo.
Le Concert à la cour, ou La Débutante, AWV 11 (1824)
1 Overture (Andantino con moto – Allegretto in B flat major, 2/4 – 6/8)
The story uses one of Scribe’s favoured Restoration settings, the small states in Germany. Adèle, an aspiring singer, is, with the help of her friend Victor, able to rise above the social intrigue and secure a post at Court by her brilliant singing at an audition. This one-act work is the first of several scenarios Scribe provided for Auber about the vicissitudes of the artistic life. The brilliant principal role was written for Antoinette-Eugénie Rigaut (1797–1883) (creator of Anna in Boieldieu's La Dame blanche, 1825), whose decisive winning aria, Entendez-vous au loin, with its characteristic semiquaver and demisemiquaver runs and turns, is presented in the Overture. This little opera proved very popular because of this famous aria, and was performed some 246 times until 1851. The section Povera signora a des migraines was used in the ballet Marco Spada (1857).
The Overture is basically in binary form with an introduction. It opens with bright bold chords, and initiates a skipping motif, the woodwinds prominent. A swift passage, with running strings playing iterated figurations, a favourite feature of Auber’s writing, leads into a repeat of the opening theme, which is suddenly presented as a loud tutti passage. A transition marked by recurring bass figures in 2/4 leads into the first subject of the exposition, with fluent string writing (the ritornello of the aria), and moves onto a short development before the sudden announcement of the second subject for the oboe – the section in 6/8 (Voici venir sur leurs riches nacelles). A crescendo passage emerges, with cascading figures in the higher winds. This transitions into the reprise of the first subject with its truncated development and the return of the second subject – for the clarinet this time – with the crescendo passage moving via dotted chords into the surprisingly strong coda.
2 – 4 Violin Concerto in D major, AWV 165 (c. 1805)
The Violin Concerto is written for a chamber orchestra (single flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, solo violin, first and second violins, violas, cellos, and basses). It is unusual for its lack of drama, so typical of the brilliant and more fully orchestrated violin concertos of Auber’s immediate predecessors and contemporaries. It resembles Giuseppe Tartini (1692–1770), or the quieter moments of Mozart’s violin concertos, rather than the more virtuoso works of the Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745–1799) and Pierre Rode (1774–1830). Auber’s composition is essentially a quintet for strings with interpolated passages for a small group of wind instruments. The solo violin plays throughout each movement, often doubling the first violins as if it were a Baroque concerto grosso. The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, is in pastoral mode. The introduction is extended, with moments of textured harmony. The first subject is calm and conversational, developing into iterated string figurations; the second more thoughtful, even wistful. Only some 30 bars engage the entire ensemble. Some instrumental colour is provided by woodwind doublings of the string parts. Even the most vigorous ensemble moments merely punctuate these gentle textures rather than transforming or developing them. When the solo violin is prominent, the wind instruments vanish, giving way to a restrained chamber style. Virtuoso display is limited to scales, trills, and a few fingered octaves, the soloist rarely playing notes no higher in pitch than high E. The second movement Andante is a melancholy interlude, like a slow aria, almost lamentoso, with both bassoons prominently engaging in some counterpoint. The concluding Presto contains spritely ensemble writing (again, almost entirely for strings). It is structured as a rondo movement, starting like a folk dance, with sudden expansion into a sprightly and tarantella-like motif, then resuming the extreme folksy mood. The flutes play in their low register and we can hear the village violinist at this peasant festival. The horns and bassoons forcefully announce the coda.
Fiorella, AWV 15 (1826)
5 Overture (B flat major, 3/4 – G minor – B flat major)
The plot, set in Rome in the 18th century, concerns Fiorella, the ward of the Duke of Farnese, who is loved by the wealthy bon vivant, Albert. Rodolphe, a French agent, becomes Albert’s friend and is introduced to Fiorella, whom he recognises as Camille, his former love in Paris. Eventually Fiorella and Rodolphe pair off while Albert consoles himself with Bianca the maid. The scenario resembles Donizetti’s La Favorite, but with a happy ending. The Overture is brisk and vigorous, shaped by a bold Allegro mouvement de valse. This is the principal melody of the opera, and dominates the Act I duet, trio and barcarole, leading into the first finale. The melody was later prominently used in the ballet Marco Spada (1857). There were 118 performances until 1848. Portentous chords with rising figures open the Overture. This reflective passage leads into a sprightly theme with the harp prominent, developing into a stormy passage resolved in dotted chords. The second subject appears over a reiterated bassline, staccato, rather like the rapid strumming of a guitar. This rhythmic pattern becomes an almost obsessional feature. A theme held by high clarinet moves into the development, with a passage into the reprise, transmuting passionately into the coda, chords heralding the peroration with a fervent dotted sequence.
6 Entr’acte to Act III
The Entr’acte to Act III of Fiorilla (Allegretto, B flat major, 4/4) is brisk and assertive, a bright dancing motif with a bustling coda.
Julie, ou L’Erreur d’un moment, AWV 1 (1805)
7 Overture (Adagio – Presto, D major, 4/4)
This was Auber’s first stage work, produced in an amateur performance in 1805. His talent was obvious, and he was encouraged by his devoted father who sent him to Luigi Cherubini, the famous composer of operas, and inspector of the Imperial Conservatoire of Music. In 1811 Cherubini saw a revised version of the score, and agreed to take on Auber as his student for three years. The Overture is rather like a fantasia, with the overall tone of a string quartet. It is calm, with strong echoing features. Sharp staccato chords introduce the first theme, a clear, descending passage for all sections of the strings. A rising cello motif ensues, then a second theme, strong lower strings answering the bass, with full recapitulation. All the parts are given a chance to feature, with a unison surge to the coda.
8 Finale (Allegretto, D major, 6/8)
The finale is subdued in tone, with a strong line for the cellos and commentary from the other string sectors, all rising to the coda.
Lestocq, ou L’Intrigue et l’Amour, AWV 24 (1834)
9 Entr’acte to Act III (Allegro moderato, D minor, 4/4)
Elizabeth, the daughter of Peter the Great, is declared incapable of succeeding her father. She retires to the provinces accompanied by a French doctor named Lestocq, a former favourite of the Tsar – an able and ambitious man. He organises a conspiracy and restores Elizabeth to the throne. The work was not very successful in France (93 performances until 1840). The Entr’acte to Act III is a miniature tone poem. A striking melodic turn begins this gloomy, haunting piece, repeating the opening section of the Overture, full of melancholic reflection, capturing the sad implications of this Russian story, but always kept in motion, never lingering. The minor key suffuses the mood, the turns recurring regularly in the melodic structure, carried by the strings, with vibrant descending woodwinds, before moving steadily to the coda.
Léocadie, AWV 12 (1824)
10 Overture (Andante, D major, 3/8 – Allegretto, D minor, 3/4 – D major – D minor – D major)
Set in Portugal at the end of the 18th century, and based on a story by Cervantes, the plot concerns a young girl’s abduction, betrayal and loss, and was considered too serious and melodramatic for opéra-comique. The music was, however, much appreciated, influenced by Auber’s teacher Cherubini. This is reflected in the Overture, with its use of restrained Iberian colour in the bolero rhythm, its wistful second subject capturing the personality of the sad heroine, with a binary shift between the tonic major and minor. The orchestration calls for a harp, an instrument used sparingly by Auber. It was performed for eight consecutive years, and had 120 performances. With this opera, designated an opéra français, Auber recovered a more French manner, integrating the influence of Rossini into his own more authentic idiom. The Overture begins with mysterious tremolos, then the entry for the woodwinds and harp, unfolding a melancholic theme which is repeated. A descending passage in thirds leads to an oboe solo which is taken up by the clarinet, then the flute. A summonsing call on the woodwinds leads into a bolero movement, first for the winds, then the strings. Long, full chords begin a development, before the entry of a second theme, a perky woodwind motif, nevertheless reflective, always with the bolero accompaniment. The clarinet call returns to initiate the recapitulation, before a strong dramatic passage announces the coda, in duple time.
11 Entr’acte to Act II (Andante con moto, G major, 4/4)
The Premier Entr’acte in Léocadie begins with the precipitate launch of a cheerful theme, woodwinds over a chugging bass. The theme is enriched in a sequence of thirds, with a sudden entry of the strings, all leading confidently to a quiet coda.
12 Entr’acte to Act III (Allegretto, F major, 6/8)
The Second Entr’acte in Léocadie is a brisk dancelike movement, mercurial, bold, with happy running strings and ripostes in the winds, looking forward to the heroine’s redemption. There is a recapitulation, with woodwind in thirds.
Couvin, ou Jean de Chimay, AWV 2 (1812)
13 Introduction to Act I (Allegro maestoso, A major, 4/4)
This was Auber’s second work, an opéra-comique in three acts, with a libretto by Népomucène Lemercier. It was produced privately, at the Théâtre du Château de Chimay in Belgium, and performed twelve times. Auber’s hosts, the Prince and Princess de Chimay, were the amateur interpreters, along with the professional Pauline Duchambage, a close friend of the composer. The story is set at this ancestral seat during the Crusades, and was a tribute to the family history of Auber’s noble hosts. The Introduction captures the chivalric tone of the plot. It is very bold, bright, processional, with trumpet fanfares, drums, horn calls, dominated by dotted-rhythms.
14 Introduction to Act II (Allegretto, C major, 2/4)
The Introduction to Act II of Jean de Chimay commences with a firm dotted call on the horn that leads into a restrained but buoyant string theme, muted con sordini, over iterated bass chords, dying away diminuendo.
La Fiancée, AWV 17 (1829)
15 Entr’acte to Act III (Allegro non troppo, A minor, 4/4)
Auber’s eleventh opera premiered at the Salle Feydeau on 10 January 1829, a light work, anchored in the very French traditions of the opéra-comique. The subject matter is a flinty Restoration reflection on social advancement, one of Scribe’s most moving and fluent plots, set in Vienna immediately after the Napoleonic Wars. Fritz, an upholsterer serving in the National Guard, is disappointed that Henriette, his fiancée, loves the nobleman Frédéric von Lowenstein. Despite romantic expectation, she marries him, while Fritz falls easy prey to the wily couturier, Madame Charlotte. La Fiancée closes the series of works in Auber’s first style, at the same initiating the second phase. It was very successful in Paris, performed 273 times by 1858. The Entr’acte to Act III is launched by a sudden upward slide into a minor key theme, sustained throughout, a lyrical sequence for flutes and clarinets. A contrasting middle section leads into a short reprise, then straight into the coda with prominent string writing. This is the cabaletta to Fritz’s B flat aria in Act I (Un jour encore, un seul jour ah!). Here, in A minor, it prepares us for Fritz’s disillusioned expectations. The melody has become well known, used in the major key in both the new Act I aria for Zerline in the Italian version of Fra Diavolo (Per te tremo, per te mi batte in seno il cor) (1857), and also as the third piece (female variation) in the ballet Grand Pas Classique arranged from Auber’s music by Victor Gsovsky (1949).
Robert Ignatius Letellier
Letellier, Robert Ignatius: Daniel-François-Esprit Auber.
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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