Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
Mozarteumorchester Salzburg & Ivor Bolton Hector Berlioz: L´Enfance du Christ OC 917 2 CD
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Format2 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 917
Release date03/11/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Berlioz, Hector

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      L’Enfance du Christ – Trilogie sacrée op. 25
      Ed Lyon, Tenor · David Wilson-Johnson, bass
      Mireille Delunsch, Sopran · Masahi Tsuji, tenor
      William Dazeley, bass
      Salzburger Bachchor
      Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg
      Ivor Bolton, conductor

      The oratorio, which uses scenes from Jesus’ childhood as its inspiration, was not composed at a stroke. A sequence of associations and successful performances of already finished parts of the work guided Berlioz to the complete three-part oratorio. Since then, the musical programme at Christmas time has been enriched with a great work of the 19th century thanks to L’Enfance du Christ. Berlioz shows a seldom seen side of his composer’s personality here – with unusual mildness and appropriately simple, almost naïve musical structure he gets closer to his purpose.

      A special kind of Christmas Oratorio

      1. Between ‘heilsgeschichte’ and free narrative: Jesus Christ as the subject of art in sacred music.
      In the beginning was The Passion. This is the briefest explanation for how the Son of God came to such prominence in western art music. Christ’s suffering on the cross has always held a special place in the gospel texts. The tradition of telling the Passion story in several voices goes back to the 13th century. The role of the Evangelist was given to the deacon; Christ’s words were presented in a lower voice by another member of the clergy while yet another clergyman represented other figures in the story. Later, a choir would take the part of various collectives like the high priests, soldiers and the crowd. This art form reached one of its early high points in the 17th century with the works of Heinrich Schütz. The summit of this genre, however, is represented by Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. John Passion (1723) and St. Matthew Passion (1729). But the long shadow cast by these outstanding compositions tended to inhibit creative work with this subject in the 19th century. In more recent times, however, composers like Hugo Distler (Choralpassion, 1932), Ernst Pepping (Passionsbericht nach Matthäus, 1950) and Krzysztof Penderecki (Lukas-Passion, 1966) have successfully rededicated themselves to the genre in various manners and with varying degrees of subjectivity. A particular species of the Passion thematic was presented by Joseph Haydn with his composition The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross, which he published in arrangements for various ensembles.

      Another aspect of Jesus’ earthly life, the Sermon on the Mount, inspired César Franck to write his oratorio Les Béatitudes. The composer considered this work, which took him ten years to compose, to be his most important. There is also no dearth of pieces that showcase the entire life and words of the Redeemer. Almost all of these end with death and resurrection or with a reflection and the concluding joyful confession of faith. Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah (1741) belongs to this latter category; Franz Liszt’s Christus (1867) to the first. If Holy Week and Easter are the most important events in the liturgical calendar of the church, Christmas, with the birth of Christ is more a festival for the heart. Its purpose is to foster a close relationship between biblical history and personal experience by incorporating the Baby Jesus into the family celebration. Over the centuries, composers considered telling the Christmas story in music to be a highly worthwhile artistic challenge. J.S. Bach’s so-called Christmas Oratorio (1734) is actually constructed of six cantatas for the religious festivals between Christmas Eve and Epiphany. The little known composition The Childhood of Christ by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, however, goes back to a poem by Johann Gottfried Herder. This piece and its title may possibly have inspired Hector Berlioz to set his sacred trilogy L’Enfance du Christ to words and music.

      2. Stations of a creative process
      The Mémoires of Hector Berlioz, printed in 1865 but only posthumously released in their entirety in 1870, are much more than cheap anecdotes of the composer’s life. This thoughtful and stylistically noteworthy book holds a place of honor within French prose writings. It is just as original and effective as the artist’s compositions. The text also provides valuable information on the origins of the L’Enfance. The first piece in the work that Berlioz wrote was the short chorus “The farewell of the shepherd”. Berlioz remarks about the almost coincidental creation of the piece during a social invitation: “I was rather bored when Duc (NB: the host, an architect) turned to me and said, ‘Because you’re not doing anything, you should write a little music piece for my album.’ ‘Gladly,’ I reply. I then take a scrap of paper, write some music lines on it and soon compose a four-voice Andantino for organ. I believe I find a certain expressiveness of bucolic, naïve mysticism in the piece, and immediately think about setting a text in the same style to the music. The organ piece disappears and becomes a choir by the shepherds in Bethlehem who are singing farewell to the Baby Jesus as the Holy Family leaves for Egypt.” The other guests interrupt their card games with amazement and delight and eavesdrop on the “medieval quality of my verse and my music.”

      The developments now take a curious course, however. Berlioz performs the chorus as a supposed composition of a made-up composer: Pierre Lucré, ostensibly from the 18th century. Reviewers are full of praise for the charming sound of this ‘ghost writer’ – especially in comparison to the bizarre mannerisms of his discoverer, who becomes increasingly pleased with this mystification. Berlioz adds further vocal numbers (The Calm of the Holy Family) as well as an overture and then successfully performs the three pieces under the title The Flight to Egypt – now under his own name.

      The “result of a small farce that I played on our good policemen, the French music critics” had slowly become a true creative matter for Berlioz. He thus wrote a continuation of the minor sacred work (The Arrival in Sais) and then finally added an extensive musical introduction: Herod’s Dream. Premiered in December 1854 in its entirety, the oratorio captured the hearts of audiences and critics alike, not only due to false pretenses. Many thought – or hoped – that Berlioz was finally developing an agreeable and pleasant musical language. But the composer strongly contradicts this assumption in his autobiography.

      “Nothing is less well-founded than this view. The subject is naturally simple and gentle, and must thus be expressed with music that corresponds to it in taste and intelligence. … I would have written ‘L’Enfance’ the same way twenty years ago.” From the same source (quoted in W. Dömling, “Berlioz”, 1977), we read that the musician adapted his style both to the respective characters of the figures and the given situations. “Herod’s insomnia aria in G Minor” is written with “dark harmonies and cadences of an odd character.” The overture, on the other hand, is written “in an innocent style, in F-sharp Minor without a leading tone”, which gives the piece a “melancholy, somewhat simple mood reminiscent of old traditional laments.” Only a later generation of listeners would be able to recognize the subtle purpose of the composer – behind the seemingly smooth façade. Likewise, it took long before the qualities of the previously composed (and unanimously rejected) ‘concertante opera’ or ‘dramatic legend’ La Damnation de Faust were recognized and the work given the appreciation it deserved.

      3. Structure and content
      At the beginning of the part one, a narrator introduces the time and milieu of the story. This is followed by a “nocturnal march” and a dialog between two Romans discussing Herod’s disturbed mental state, before Herod himself reveals his diffuse fears and conflicted psyche. The chorus of fortunetellers intensifies and concretizes the ruler’s panic: a new-born child whose name is known by none will dethrone Herod and become his heir. The spirits thus advise Herod to his infamous campaign of killing newborn boys. The scene now changes: we are in the stall in Bethlehem. Maria and Joseph sing a duet glorifying their small baby. A choir of invisible angels warns the parents about the impending danger and tells them to flee immediately for Egypt.

      In part two, a pastoral overture sets the mood for the following farewell chorus of the shepherds. The narrator then reports about the travels of the Holy Family before an exultant choir of angels closes this “middle act”.

      The concluding third part, The Arrival in Sais, is exciting and full of detail. Exhausted and abused by the population, the fugitives don’t find a friendly welcome until they reach an Ismaelite household. A trio for two flutes and harp cheers the guests. Their cares and weariness disappear in the agreeable security of the new domicile and its amiable inhabitants. A choir invites the Holy Family to be at peace again and conveys new hope. The epilog, again introduced by the narrator, closes the work with the meditative passage “My heart, be fulfilled with pure, deep love that alone can open the doors to the heavenly kingdom. Amen.” Getting to know this spiritual trilogy expands, enriches and deepens our image of Berlioz, who was much more than the artistic iconoclast that his French contemporaries wanted to pigeonhole him as and reduce him to.

      Oswald Panagl
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      Tracklist hide

      hide CD 1
      • Première partie: Le songe d´Hérode
        • 1.No. 1 Dans la crèche, en ce temps, Le Récitant
          Jésus venait de naître
        • 2.No. 2 Marche nocturne Scène I: Un Centurion, Polydorus
          Récit Qui vient?
          Air d´Hérode
        • 3.No. 3 Récit Toujours ce rêve! Scène II: Hérode
          Air O misère des rois!
          Seigneur! Scène III: Hérode, Polydorus
        • 4.Les sages de Judée Scène IV: Choeur de devins, Hérode
          Duo Scène V: Marie, Joseph
          O mon cher fils, donne cette herbe tendre
        • 5.No. 5 Duo Scène V: Marie, Joseph
          O mon cher fils, donne cette herbe tendre
        • 6.No. 6 Joseph! Marie! Écoutez-nous Scène VI: Choeur d’anges, Marie, Joseph04:15
      • Total:40:56
      more CD 2
      • Deuxième partie: La fuite en Égypte
        • 1.No. 7 Ouverture05:07
        • 2.No. 8 L’adieu des bergers Le Choeur
          à la Sainte Famille
          Il s´en va loin de la terre
        • 3.No. 9 Le repos de la Sainte Famille Le Récitant, Choeur d´anges
          Les pélerins étant venus
      • Troisième partie: L’arrivée à Saïs
        • 4.No. 10 Depuis trois jours, Le Récitant
          malgré l’ardeur du vent
        • 5.No. 11 Duo Dans cette ville immense Scène I: Marie, Joseph, les Romains, les Egyptiens05:38
        • 6.No. 12 Entrez, entrez, pauvres Hébreux! Scène II: Le Père de famille, Joseph, les Ismaélites07:29
        • 7.No. 13 Trio des Ismaélites
          (pour deux flûtes et harpe) (Allegro moderato – Andante espressivo – Allegro vivo – Andante)
          Ingrid Hassl, Beatrice Rentsch: flute
          Doris Rehm: harp
        • 8.No. 14 Vous pleurez, jeune mère Le Père de famille, Marie, Joseph, Choeur d+ Ismaélites05:10
        • 9.No. 15 Epilogue Ce fut ainsi que par un infidèle
          Le Récitant, le Choer mystique, Choeur d’anges)
      • Total:53:03