Academic journal article Notes

Hector Berlioz

Academic journal article Notes

Hector Berlioz

Article excerpt

Hector Berlioz. Incomplete Operas. Edited by Ric Graebner and Paul Banks. Kassel: Barenreiter, 2002. (New Edition of the Complete Works, 4.) (Musica Gallica.) [Gen. pref. in Eng., Fr., Ger., p. vii; foreword, p. viii-xxvi; score, 316 p. (includes facsims.); crit. notes, p. 317-26; facsims., p. 327-30; appendices, p. 331-45. Cloth. ISMN M-006-47144-7; Barenreiter-Ausgabe 5444. [euro]268.] Contains: Les francs-juges; La nonne sanglante.

Like many composers in the nineteenth century, Hector Berlioz dreamed of having a successful operatic premiere in Paris. Although this goal eluded his three surviving operas--Benvenuto Cellini (1834-37), Les Troyens (1856-58), and Beatrice et Benedict (1860-62)--we know that he contemplated other works throughout his career for theaters in Paris as well. Some of these works never got beyond the planning stage, others were begun but never finished, and one (Estelle et Nemorin, 1823) was completed but then destroyed. Fragments of two of these unfinished compositions, Les francs-juges and La nonne sanglante, comprise the contents of this volume of incomplete operas edited by Ric Graebner and Paul Banks for the New Berlioz Edition; a third unfinished work, the intermede antique Erigone, appears in volume 21, Miscellaneous Works and Index, edited by Hugh Macdonald (2005).

Written in 1825-26 to a libretto by Humbert Ferrand (1805-1868), Les francs-juges is, along with La revolution grecque (1825-26) and the recently discovered Messe solennelle (1824), the earliest of Berlioz's large-scale works to survive. The opera's plot, which deals with the secret Vehmic tribunals during the Middle Ages in Germany, reflects the contemporary interest in Gothic subject matter. Thanks in part to Berlioz's extensive correspondence and his Memoires (Paris: Michel Levy freres, 1870; ed. Pierre Citron, rev. ed. [Paris: Flammarion, 2000]; The Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, trans. and ed. David Cairns, rev. ed., Everyman's Library, 231 [New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002]), Graebner and Banks are able to provide a detailed account of the opera's original guise as well as subsequent revisions of both the libretto and music. Berlioz originally intended the three-act opera for a performance at the Theatre de l'Odeon in late 1826, but when that possibility fell through, he presented three excerpts from it at a concert in May 1828. He revised and expanded the work twice, first in 1829-30 (with the new title Lenor, ou Les derniers francs-juges), then again in 1833-34 (reworked as a one-act intermezzo entitled Le cri de guerre du Brisgaw), each time for productions that failed to materialize. As late as 1853, Berlioz still hoped to salvage part of the work for concert use.

Despite the opera's protracted genesis, Graebner and Banks have successfully identified which numbers date from the original composition and which were later additions. They draw in large measure on the work of D. Kern Holoman, who argued that the original version consisted of the overture and fourteen numbers (The Creative Process in the Autograph Musical Documents of Hector Berlioz, c. 1818-1840, Studies in Musicology, 7 [Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1980], 223). The extant numbers include the overture and nos. 1, 2, 6, 12, and 13 (which are complete); no. 7 (the trio pastorale "Le ciel et les voluptes") exists only in a piano-vocal score; and nos. 11 (Arnold's recitative and aria "Voici l'endroit fatal") and 14 (the finale) survive as fragments (a series of torn half-pages and stubs). The remaining numbers are lost, but Berlioz readily admitted in his memoirs that he incorporated parts of the opera into other works, a common practice with him. The editors have been able to trace some of these later adaptations. The Marche des gardes (no. 9) was revised and transferred to the Symphonie fantastique (1830) as the "Marche au supplice." A melody introduced in the opera's finale (No. 14) was later used in Benvenuto Cellini, and part of No. …

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