Tuesday, March 22, 2011

La Gloire de la Musique Française!

Quelques idées... Daniel Cruse '12, Derek Tam '11, et Arden Rogow-Bales '10.

In the words of Beverly Shangkuan ISM ‘10, Simon Carrington “embodies French elegance.” This February 27th the Glee Club had the pleasure of singing three songs under his baton as part of a large concert of French music featuring the Schola Cantorum, Camerata, YSO and Collegium Players. Several weeks of struggling with French diction were rendered somewhat less painful with assistance of Arden Rogow-Bales ’10 and numerous other Francophone Glee Clubbers. Jeff warned us that Simon “doesn’t kid around,” and indeed anyone who forgot to bring her music to rehearsal or sang with a zombie-like facial expression was told off in fine British fashion.

The afternoon of the 27th soon arrived, and midterms and studying gave way to black dresses and white tie. I could occupy several minutes of your time raving about Schola (an ensemble Carrington founded during his time on the Yale ISM faculty), their performance of de Mondonville’s Dominus Regnavit (I hadn’t heard of it either) and the voices of Sherezade Panthaki and Dashon Burton, but I’ll fast-forward to the Glee Club’s set. The men had the pleasure of listening to the Glee ladies sing in haunting harmony about Ophelia “slowly sing[ing] herself to death” (program notes from Derek Tam ’11 below) in Hector Berlioz’s La mort d’Ophélie; the menfolk then joined them onstage and pretended to be spirits in the jaunty Le Ballet des Ombres, another Hamlet-inspired piece (translation from Arden Rogow-Bales ’11 below). Returning to the audience for Camerata and the YSO’s performance of Poulenc’s somber Stabat Mater, all singers took the stage to conclude the concert with a rousing anthem by César Franck. A great time was had by all.

- Daniel Cruse '12


La mort d’Ophélie

Beside a raging river, Ophelia
Was picking, all along the bank,
Periwinkles, buttercups,
Irises with opal tints
And some of those pale pink flowers
They call fingers-of-death.
Ah! Ah! Ah!

Then, raising in her white hands
The laughing treasures of the morning,
She started hanging them from the branches,
The branches of a nearby willow.
But, too weak, the limb bends,
Breaks, and poor Ophelia
Falls, her garland in her hand.

For a few moments her puffy dress
Kept her up above the stream
And, like a sail full of wind,
She floated, still singing,
Singing some old ballad,
Singing just like a naiad
Born in the middle of that raging river.

But this strange melody
Passed away as swiftly as a brief sound.
Weighed down by the waves, her dress
Soon pulled into the deep abyss
The poor senseless woman,
Leaving her melodious song
Just barely started.
Ah! Ah! Ah!

Like many of his contemporaries, Berlioz’s infatuation with Shakespeare bordered on the extreme. The composer not only quoted Shakespeare frequently in conversation, but also associated personal events with scenes in Shakespeare’s plays. Berlioz also used the bard’s works as a foundation for three major works: the Roi Lear overture (1831), the choral symphony Roméo et Juliette (1839) and the opera Béatrice et Bénédict (1862).

Written in 1828, “Le ballet des ombres” (The dance of shadows) was one of Berlioz’s Shakespeare-inspired works; an 1827 performance of Hamlet at the Théâtre de l'Odéon in Paris had sparked Berlioz’s passion for Shakespeare. In the epigraph to the song, Berlioz quotes Hamlet’s speech from the end of Act III, scene 2, as the prince steels himself to confront his mother:

’Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world…
Shakespeare, Hamlet (III.2)

Berlioz’s fantasy on Hamlet’s words captures the supernatural power of the nocturnal spirits with unexpected accents, enormous dynamic shifts and “special effects” such as glissandi. While the spirits ultimately take leave, their final, whispered words remind the listener than “you will become what we are.”

The 1827 performance of Hamlet also marked another watershed moment in Berlioz’s life: in the role of Ophelia was the British actress Harriet Smithson (1800–1854), who was to become Berlioz’s first wife and the muse behind the Symphonie fantastique (1830), perhaps his most famous composition. But by the time Berlioz composed “La mort d’Ophélie” (The death of Ophelia) in 1842 (initially for solo voice and piano; the choral version was composed six years later) the couple had separated. Berlioz had come to realize that the real Smithson, who had become obese and an alcoholic, fell far short of his Romantic ideal.

In “La mort d’Ophélie,” Berlioz paraphrases Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s death in Act IV, scene 7 and draws it out over four strophes, linked by a beautiful, lullaby-like melody; over the water-like tremolos of the piano, Ophelia — and by implication, the love between Berlioz and Smithson — slowly sings herself to death. Even for a composer whose works often reflected personal turmoil, “La mort d’Ophélie” is intensely autobiographical and provides valuable insight into the personality of an artist largely misunderstood in his own lifetime.

-Derek Tam '11

Le ballet des ombres

Formez vos rangs, entrez en danse!
L'ombre descend, le jour s'enfuit.
Ombres, votre règne commence
Dans la sombre horreur de la nuit. (Hou!)
Quand le souffle des orages
Agite les vertes forêts
Il vient aussi dans nos bocages
Faire frémir les noirs cyprès.
Formez vos rangs, entrez en danse,
Ombres, prenez-vous par la main,
Troublez cet auguste silence
Qui règne sur le genre humain!
(Formons nos rangs, entrons en danse, etc.)
Ah!

Pour les rangs point de jalousie,
Ombres de bergers et de rois!
Oubliez que l'orgeuil, l'envie
Vous divisèrent autrefois! (Hou!)
L'un n'éprouva que des traverses;
Dans le bonheur l'autre vécut.
Tous ont pris des routes diverses
Pour venir tous au même but.
Ombres, oubliez de la terre
Et les plaisirs et les travaux!
Formez une danse légère
Qui courbe a peine les pavots.
(Formons une danse légère, etc.)
Ah!

Formez vos rangs, entrez en danse!
Mais la lune se lève et luit.
Gagnons l'Élysée en silence,
Et rendons le calme à la nuit!
Mortels, lorsque dans les nuits sombres
Notre voix vous réveillera,
Songez bien qu'à la voix des ombres
Un jour la vôtre s'unira!
Pourquoi nous craindre, enfants des hommes?
Ce que vous êtes, nous l'étions,
Et vous serez ce que nous sommes.
Au revoir! Nous nous reverrons!
Ah!
Oui, vous serez ce que nous sommes,
Au revoir! Nous nous reverrons!


The Shades' Ballet

Get into rows, begin to dance!
The darkness falls, the daylight flees.
Shades, your rule begins
In the dark horror of the night. (Boo!)
When the windy gusts of storms
Shake the green forests,
They also come into our groves
To make the black cypresses shiver.
Get into rows, begin to dance,
Shades, take each other by the hand,
Disturb this haughty silence
That reigns over humankind!
(Let's get into rows, let's begin to dance, etc.)
Ah!

No jealousy among the rows,
You shades of shepherds and of kings!
Forget that pride and envy
Divided you once in the past! (Boo!)
One experienced only hardships;
In happiness the other lived.
All of them took different paths
To all end up in the same place.
Shades, forget of the earth
Both its pleasures and its pains!
Form up into a dainty dance
That barely bends the flower-stalks.
(Let's form a dainty dance, etc.)
Ah!

Get into rows, begin to dance!
But now the moon rises and shines.
Hence to the Elysian Fields in silence,
And let the night be still once more! (Boo!)
Mortals, when in the still of night
Our voices rouse your from your sleep,
Remember that, one day, your voice
Will join the chorus of the shades!
Why fear us, children of mankind?
What you are now, we once were too,
And you will be what we are now.
Goodbye for now! We'll meet again!
Ah!
Yes, you will be what we are now,
Goodbye for now! We'll meet again!

All translations from Arden - but "real people" aren't allowed to read them.
For Glee or Ghost Eyes Only.