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Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

It was from this perch in sunny Hollywood that Stravinsky wrote his Ebony Concerto in 1945.  In it, he distilled American jazz through his own compositional lens.  The score (untouched since its first edition in 1946) has this to say about its origin and inspiration:

Ebony Concerto was written by Igor Stravinsky for Woody Herman and his Orchestra.  It was introduced by that orchestra in a memorable concerto at Carnegie Hall, New York, on March 25, 1946, to the acclaim of public and critics alike.

Igor Stravinsky is one of the greatest and most representative figures in modern-day music.  His music has shocked, delighted, amazed, and irritated, but never bored people.  Stravinsky’s revolutionary musical precepts, his constant search for the new, for the true mirror of our changing world, find expression in music that is based on sound musicianship and great genius.  That is why his Firebird SuiteRite of Spring, and Petrouchka, to name only a few of his major works, are modern classics.

That is why Stravinsky was so impressed by the Woody Herman Orchestra and by their recordings of Bijou, Goosey Gander, and Caldonia.  His creativeness, invention, and deep sense of the modern, matched the characteristics of the Herman Orchestra.  A few months after Stravinsky had met Woody Herman, he presented the popular bandleader with Ebony Concerto… a composition that marks an epochal collaboration between the “jazz” and the “modern” schools of thought.

In truth, this origin story is somewhat romanticized.  Another account (see the Chicago Tribune link below) has it that a member of Herman’s band boasted of a meeting with Stravinsky which never actually happened, leading their mutual publisher to arrange the commission for the cash-strapped composer.  Regardless, Stravinsky did possess enough affinity for jazz that he did not hesitate in completing the project.

Listen to the original recording, and notice the delicious clash of styles happening:

Now listen to another recording that Stravinsky conducted, this time with Benny Goodman as the soloist:

The astute listener in possession of a score will have noticed that in both recordings, Stravinsky does not take his own printed tempos.  The interpretations on these recordings have now become standard.

The tunes mentioned in the program notes give great context to what inspired Stravinsky.  Here is Bijou:

And here is Caldonia:

For further reading on the Ebony Concerto, visit the Center for Jazz Arts, the Chicago Tribune, New York City Ballet, and Boosey & Hawkes.  Get a partial look at the score here.

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

Shortly after Claude Debussy died in 1918, Stravinsky began sketching a piece in his honor.  He called it Symphonies of Wind Instruments, yet it was not a typical symphony.  Instead, Stravinsky meant the term in the more ancient sense of a group of instruments sounding together.  He thus constructed the piece in one movement as a disjunct procession of these varied instrumental groupings.  It first appeared publicly as a fragment from the end of the piece in piano reduction in the Parisian publication La Revue musicale, part of an issue dedicated to Debussy’s memory, in 1920.  The complete version was premiered under Serge Koussevitzky that same year, but gave Stravinsky little satisfaction in performance: he said that “Koussevitzky executed the work, in firing-squad fashion.”   It lay unpublished and largely unperformed until Stravinsky fled Europe and moved to Hollywood.  There, he substantially revised the piece between 1945 and 1947.  This revised version, which retains the dedication to Debussy’s memory, is the most often performed today.

The defining feature of Symphonies of Wind Instruments is Stravinsky’s use of the various instruments to create distinct symphonies of sound.  These groups often contrast and rarely overlap.  Tempo is another important factor in the piece.  Stravinsky uses three main tempos (essentially quarter note = 72, 108, and 144), always maintaining the eighth-note pulse within each one when using mixed meters.  These often change abruptly, but they are related by the ratio 2:3:4, and so easily performable exactly as Stravinsky asks.  Both the instrumentation blocks and the tempo sections usually end abruptly and without transition, creating a block form that is typical of Stravinsky’s broader output.  The general form of the piece has flummoxed analysts for nearly a century, with no two scholars able to agree on an exact formal plan.  The changes in orchestration and tempo, though, provide clues.  The piece is in two main sections, divided at rehearsal 42 (the first fermata).  Before that, Stravinsky introduces six different musical blocks and three types of transitions that are shuffled around and stated in various orders, never overlapping save for a broader transitional section at rehearsal 11.  After 42, only two of those blocks and a new transition type get any treatment, with the final chorale-like block occupying most of the second half.  Thus, Symphonies of Wind Instruments makes an overall move from activity and variety to stasis and sameness.  In the process, Stravinsky uses at least 37 different combinations of instruments.

The Netherlands Wind Ensemble plays the 1947 revision of the Symphonies in a very well-conceived video presentation.  Like the piece itself, the video focuses only on certain musicians at any given time:

Symphonies of Wind Instruments has inspired much scholarship, but little agreement.  Analyses have been attempted by Edward Cone, Thomas Tyra, Robert Wason, Jonathan Kramer, Jeremy Matthews, Alexander Rehding, and many others.  Less scholarly accounts of the piece can be found at Wikipedia, Boosey & Hawkes, the Kennedy Center (which did not check all of its facts!), the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, and the LA Philharmonic.  For a conductor’s perspective, read about David Vickerman’s quest to find the perfect tempos on a recording.  These are just a handful of the dozens of internet articles about the piece, so go explore!

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as a Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Suite Française is a true classic of the wind band repertoire and a personal favorite of mine that I have been studying on and off for years and have conducted twice in concert.  It hasn’t appeared on this blog until now only because I have known that it would take a tremendous effort to really do this piece justice, even in my relatively un-scholarly format, as evidenced by the three days it has taken me to put this post together.  I hope that what follows proves enlightening for the uninitiated.

Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) was a prolific French composer and teacher and a member of Les Six early in his career.  He was born to Jewish parents and grew up in Aix-en-Provence, France.  He studied at the Paris Conservatoire, graduating in 1915.  His composition career took off from there.  He traveled to Brazil (Rio) and the United States (Harlem), where he heard the uniquely New World sounds of Brazilian music and American jazz, both of which would influence his compositional style.  The Harlem experience inspired him to write the jazz-tinged ballet La creation du Monde in 1922, before even American composers were making serious efforts to blend jazz with concert music.  The Nazi occupation of France put Milhaud in serious danger: not only was he a prominent Jewish figure, he also was often confined to a wheelchair due to severe rheumatoid arthritis.  He fled for the United States 1940.  While there, he secured a teaching position at Mills College in Oakland, California, where his notable students included Burt Bacharach, William Bolcom, Peter Schickele, and Dave Brubeck.  Once France was liberated, he resumed his career there, alternating years at Mills College and the Paris Conservatoire from 1947-1971.  His music further distinguished itself through its unique and unabashed use of polytonality.  Milhaud wrote two autobiographies.  The first (1953)was called Notes Without Music.  Despite having dodged Nazi persecution and spent years in pain confined to a wheelchair, Milhaud titled the second (1972) Ma vie heureuse (My Happy Life).  He died in Geneva at age 81.

There are several internet biographies of Milhaud.  See Wikipedia, Naxos, Universal Edition, the Milken Archive of Jewish Music, the Music Academy Online, and American National Biography Online.  Also, Milhaud’s former student Dave Brubeck offers reflections on his beloved teacher in this movie clip and this very moving audio excerpt (the Milhaud section starts around 14 minutes in).

Milhaud wrote Suite Française in 1944 on a commission from Leeds Music, which published the piece in 1945.  They were looking for a piece fit for high school bands, and Milhaud delivered beautifully.  It was premiered by the Goldman Band in New York City on June 13, 1945.  Milhaud also created versions for orchestra and for 4-hands piano, although the wind band version came first.  Says Milhaud of the piece (from the band score):

For a long time I have had the idea of writing a composition fit for high school purposes and this was the result. In the bands, orchestras, and choirs of American high schools, colleges and universities where the youth of the nation be found, it is obvious that they need music of their time, not too difficult to perform, but, nevertheless keeping the characteristic idiom of the composer. The five parts of this Suite are named after French Provinces, the very ones in which the American and Allied armies fought together with the French underground of the liberation of my country: Normandy, Brittany, Ile-de-France (of which Paris is the center), Alsace-Lorraine, and Provence (my birthplace). I used some folk tunes of these provinces. I wanted the young American to hear the popular melodies of those parts of France where their fathers and brothers fought to defeat the German invaders, who in less than seventy years have brought war, destruction, cruelty, torture, and murder, three times, to the peaceful and democratic people of France.

In addition to the folk tunes (which I will discuss below), Milhaud provided some melodies of his own.  Each movement is uniquely of its place, as you will see in the videos below.  “Normandie” uses two lively Norman folk songs: “Germaine”, about a warrior coming home through the eyes of a young woman; and “The French Shepherdess and the King of England“, about a comic meeting between the two title characters.  Milhaud added some original material to help him depict the region where so many American servicemen landed in France during World War II:

A fog-horn announces the beginning of “Bretagne“, a province with deep ties to the sea. The movement uses the sea shanties “La Paimpolaise” and “Les marins de Groix“, as well as “La chanson des metamorphoses“, a song that imagines the singer’s lover transformed:

Ile-de-France” depicts the bustle of Paris with lively, largely carefree folk material.  It begins with “A ma main droite j’ai un rosier” (I tend a rosebush with my right hand), a children’s round that alternates bars of 3 and 2, and which Milhaud sets in 4 while still retaining the accents of the original.  The lyrical melody that soon crops up is “Voici la Saint-Jean“, a summer festival song.  “La belle au rosier blanc” (The Fair Maid of the White-Rose Tree) also make an appearance:

Alsace-Lorraine” takes a more melancholy turn, suggesting distant artillery fire around a solemn funeral procession, fitting for a region that borders Germany and was taken over during the war.  Still, the movement’s ending suggests hope and triumph to come.  The main melody is apparently a Milhaud original.  The primary countermelody that sounds so distant desolate at first is “Voici le moi de Mai” (Here is the month of May), a spritely tra-la-la of a tune.  The clarinet interlude in the middle comes from “Le mois de Mai”, a different but still spritely festival tune:

Provence“, Milhaud’s childhood home, is joyous and innocent and uses the most original material of any movement.  The only folk song is “Magali“, another story of a lover transformed:

I owe a large debt to Robert Garofalo’s fantastic study guide on this piece, without which I would not have been able to even begin identifying the folk material in the suite.  His book goes much farther than this page in giving background information and context.  Here is a look at some of the folk songs that he names:

I. NORMANDIE – Sadly, none of these songs seem to be recorded in internet form.

II. BRETAGNE

“La Paimpolaise”, of which Milhaud only uses the major-key refrain (presented first in this performance):

“Les marins de Groix”, which Milhaud slows down dramatically.  If you listen carefully, you’ll recognize the tune once the tempo picks up:

III. ILE DE FRANCE

“A ma main droite j’ai un rosier”:

“Voici la Saint Jean” seems to be one set of lyrics with several different tunes attached.  Here is one that closely resembles that which Milhaud used.  Listen carefully to the top vocal and you’ll hear it:

IV. ALSACE-LORRAINE

Listen to a recording of “Voici le mois de Mai” in English.

V. PROVENCE

“Magali” orchestrated:

Additional material on Suite Française can be found at the Wind Repertory Project, this program notes wiki, and the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra Blog.  In addition, Tim Reynish has a nice page with interpretive notes on the piece, and David Whitwell wrote a paper on it.  Finally, see the full score of the orchestral version with Leonard Bernstein’s markings at the New York Philharmonic Archive.

Objectively, Les Misérables stands as a genuine cultural phenomenon of 3 different centuries: it was originally a hugely popular novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862; it was adapted into a French language musical by composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel in 1980, then translated into English by Herbert Kretzmer for a still-running London production in 1985, followed by a 1987 Broadway production that won 8 Tony Awards and set records for the length of its run; in 2012 that musical was adapted into a film, which won 3 Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Anne Hathaway as Fantine.

It tells the story of Jean Valjean, who is about to be released from prison as the story opens.  Valjean violates his parole and starts his life anew as a good man, only to be pursued for by Javert, a justice-obsessed police inspector.  These two and the many other characters are set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, culminating in the last stand of a band of young revolutionaries (one of whom is in love with Valjean’s adopted daughter) at a street barricade during the 1832 Paris Uprising, 17 years after the story begins.

The music from Les Misérables has become well known all over the world, and has been arranged for band many times.  The arrangement we are playing was done by Warren Barker in 1987, right when the musical first hit Broadway.  Here it is, played by the Acadian Wind Symphony:

One note: I am not a fan of drum set parts in symphonic music, even semi-pop tunes like this, so we will leave them out of our performance.

To go to the source, here are some performances of the songs in the arrangement.  It starts with “At the End of the Day”, a primarily choral number which depicts the misery of the lower classes in early 19th-century Paris.  This performance comes from the musical’s 10th anniversary concert staging at London’s Royal Albert Hall:

“I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo about her unfulfilled dreams, sung as she faces the darkest days of her life, having lost her job and her daughter and been forced into prostitution.  This is Anne Hathaway’s Oscar-winning performance, intercut with other scenes from the film:

“Master of the House” is our introduction to the Thénardiers, a corrupt innkeeper and his wife who have been caring for Fantine’s daughter, Cosette (and taking her money) while neglecting her and showering gifts on their own daughter, Éponine.  This performance comes from the 2006 Broadway revival.  The meat of the song starts around 1:00:

The teenage Éponine sings “On My Own” as she realizes and accepts that the revolutionary leader, Marius, is in love with Cosette rather than her.  Sung by one of the classic Éponines, Linzi Hateley:

“Do You Hear the People Sing” is the big choral number in which the young revolutionaries rally the people of Paris to their cause.  Here it is as sung by 17 different Valjeans from around the world:

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) was an influential French composer and head of the Paris Conservatoire for 15 years in the early 20th century.  Although his own works were for the most part highly lyrical, he is thought to have spanned the gulf between the Romanticism that dominated the musical circles of his youth and the Modernism of his later years, in large part due to his role as head of the Conservatoire.  He was revered by the French people and fellow composers even to the end of his life, which is all the more remarkable given that his last years came after tumultuous changes in the music world that left many more conservative composers out of favor.

Fauré wrote Chant Funéraire (Funeral Song) in 1921 on a commission from the French government to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Napoleon‘s death.  He wrote it at age 75, after having retired from the Paris Conservatoire.  Despite his ill health, he continued to compose, creating 2 cello sonatas and numerous other pieces that seemed to posses a youthful energy.  He re-used the Chant Funéraire nearly verbatim as the second movement of the first cello sonata, showing that he must have had some affection for the material.  Fauré did not orchestrate the Chant Funeraire himself.  He left that to Guillaume Balay, who conducted the premiere performance with the Gardé Republicaine Band.  Myron “Mike” Moss created a new orchestration in 2003.  Says Moss in his score notes:

Balay’s orchestration offers the power called for by the state occasion of the premiere, but it is weighed down by the band music conventions of its time.  The scoring is thick throughout (a phenomenon found nowhere in Fauré’s own orchestrations), the score’s quiet moments are especially over-instrumented, and Fauré’s clean and sonorous voice leading is often obscured through inconsistent octave doublings.  The present orchestration emulates the transparent and clear scoring of Fauré’s own style.

There are a bunch of great internet sources for Chant Funéraire (and the related cello sonata): the Wind Repertory ProjectHal LeonardClassical Archives, the Trinity International University Concert BandNaxos, a session from the 2008 Midwest Clinic, and a review of the First Cello Sonata.  Fauré himself is featured on Wikipedia, a Facebook page, a YouTube artist pageNaxosNPR, and the BBC.

There appears to be only one recording of Chant Funéraire on YouTube.  Thankfully, it is a good one: Moss’s orchestration with Kevin Sedatole conducting a Texas regional honor band:

And here is the second movement of the First Cello Sonata, which uses exactly the same material:

Finally, two early gems of Fauré’s work that have personal meaning for me.  First, the Cantique de Jean Racine, which gave me one of my first profound experiences as a choral singer at Laurel Music Camp in between 9th and 10th grade:

Now the Chanson d’amour, which was sung during my wedding ceremony:

Born in Russia, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) was on track to become a lawyer until he began composition studies with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.  He started his career in Paris with three ballets written for choreographer Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes: The Firebird, Petrushka, and The Rite of Spring, the last of which is legendary for causing a riot at its premiere.   The Rite especially was a model of neo-primitivism, in which Stravinsky used very small cells of notes to create orchestral textures that often featured intense, driving rhythms.  In the 1920s he largely abandoned his primitivist tendencies and began writing consciously Neoclassical music, which at first baffled his contemporaries, although not as much as his turn to serialism in the 1950s.  Still, his music remained popular, and he was consistently seen as a bold and hugely influential composer, perhaps one of the most important of the 20th century.  His reputation endures today, with hundreds if not thousands of performances of his works happening every year.  He died an American citizen, having moved to California in 1939.

Stravinsky wrote the Octet (he also called it the Octuor) in 1922.  He conducted its premiere in Paris the following year. Its instrumentation is unusual, with 1 flute, 1 clarinet, and 2 each of bassoons, trumpets, and trombones.  About this, Stravinsky said: “The Octet began with a dream, in which I saw myself in a small room surrounded by a small group of instrumentalists playing some attractive music . . . I awoke from this little concert in a state of great delight and anticipation and the next morning began to compose.”  With its use of older forms like sonata and theme and variations, it marked the beginning of his Neoclassical phase, which was to last for most of the next three decades. Coming after intensely rhythmic and primitivist works like The Rite of Spring, the Octet sounds like a mockery of classical forms.  The first movement opens with an adagio introduction typical of classical sonata form, but utterly different in its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic conceptions.  The sonata begins in earnest with a clear, allegro thematic statement.  It unfolds in typical sonata fashion: exposition, development, recapitulation.  The exact moment of recapitulation is hard to place: Stravinsky not only mirrors the restatement of his themes in the 2nd half of the movement, he also deceives the listener by stating only part of the primary theme toward the end, before finally giving the theme one last full airing at the very end of the movement.  The second movement is a fairly straightforward theme and variations.  It segues directly to the third, a rondo of sorts that is based on a Russian dance rhythm.

Here is but one performance:

For another perspective, listen to this recording of Leonard Bernstein conducting members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1947 at Tanglewood.  Also, take a look at Bernstein’s markings in the score (of a later edition), via the New York Philharmonic archives.

Musicians love to talk about the Octet.  It has its own, extensive Wikipedia article, complete with a history and a formal analysis of each movement.  It was the subject of a doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas in 2007, dealing specifically with the trumpet parts.  It is featured on the Wind Repertory Project.  This Boosey & Hawkes blurb has some great contemporary quotes on the piece (one of which I used above).  Stravinsky himself wrote an essay about it for the premiere, which he published in 1924.  This other essay refers to that.  Since the Octet has such legendarily fun bassoon parts (my favorite bit is the cascade in the 2nd movement, although the beginning of the 3rd also gets me every time), it’s only fitting that the principal bassoonist of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra would write a fantastic and detailed blog post about her experience with the piece.  Finally, it has a place in the Classical Archives.

Stravinsky has biographies on Wikipedia, IMDb, and Boosey & Hawkes, as well as Foundation in his name with an Internet presence.  So much has been written about him in print that the Internet hardly does him justice.  But here are some articles from humanitiesweb and Cal Tech (on his religious works), and some quotes from him, just to whet your appetite.

Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1875-1947) came to France from Venezuela with his family at age 3.  By age 10, he was a student at the Paris Conservatoire alongside Maurice Ravel.  He published his first song, a setting of a poem by Victor Hugo, when he was 13.  He was a child prodigy on the piano and a fine singer: even at that young age, he would often accompany himself in performances of his own songs.  At 19, he met the not-yet-famous writer Marcel Proust.  The two were briefly lovers, and remained close friends until Proust’s death in 1922.  In his autobiographical novel Jean Santeuil, Proust described Hahn as an “instrument of genius” who “moves our hearts, moistens our eyes, cures us one after the other in a silent and solemn undulation. Never since Schumann has music painted sorrow, tenderness, the calm induced by nature, with such brush strokes of human truth and absolute beauty.” Hahn remained best known for his songs, and he adhered to a conservative style of composition that prized elegant melodies and an aesthetic of beauty.  He was a constant presence in the high-society salons of Paris, and was known for charm and good looks.

Hahn wrote the ballet Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in 1905.  Music for winds was in vogue in Paris at the time thanks to the success of groups like Paul Taffanel’s Société de Musique de Chambre pour Instruments á Vent (Wind Instrument Chamber Music Society) and Georges Barrére’s Societé Moderne d’Instruments á Vent (Modern Wind Instrument Society), both of which were rediscovering the Harmoniemusik of Mozart and Beethoven while also commissioning new works like Gounod’s Petite Symphonie.  Hahn may have been inspired by their success – he was definitely involved in a concert of the Societé Moderne in 1903.  That group premiered Le bal on March 28, 1905 as part of their tenth anniversary concert.

Le bal presents an imagined evening in the court of Beatrice (1475-1497) of the House Este, a treasured princess of the Italian Renaissance.  She became the Duchess of Milan in 1491 when she married Ludovico Sforza.  Both were known as patrons of the arts and humanities: Leonardo Da Vinci completed his Last Supper under their patronage.  They were also known for hosting fine balls.  Hahn’s composition is in seven movements, scored for 2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, percussion, 2 harps, and piano.  It opens with the fanfare, Entrée pour Ludovic le More, or Ludovico’s entrance music.  Three of the inner movements are Renaissance dances (LesquercadeRomanesque, Courante) interspersed with a portrait of Beatrice’s sister Isabella (Iberienne), and a musical impression of a Da Vinci painting (Léda et l’Oiseau).  The Salut Final au Duc de Milan puts a regal bookend on the piece.

The Orchestre de Paris once performed Le bal de Beatrice d’Este in its entirety on YouTube, but that recording has disappeared.  There is a partial recording of the Idaho Falls Youth Symphony doing some of the movements, but it doesn’t really do the piece justice.  If you want an idea of what each movement sounds like, check out the examples of this Hyperion recording: simply click the music notes before each movement title for a short excerpt.

Now some context.  Those dances in the interior movements are intended to be legitimate Renaissance dance styles.  The Lesquercade as a dance appears to have been lost from our collective memory.  The Romanesque is even harder to find specific information on.  That leaves just the Courante.  Alas, Hahn wrote his Courante in duple meter (cut time), but it was a triple meter dance.  So, instead of getting specific, here is a video with a whole range of Renaissance dances.  It starts with an introduction in Dutch, but the dances really get going around the 1:00 mark:

Bonus: Hahn’s first published song, “Si mes vers avaient des ailes” (If my verses had wings)

Le bal de Beatrice d’Este links: nice program note at the University of Maryland Wind Orchestra, information page related to this doctoral dissertation by Jared Chase, who created new critical edition of the piece.

Reynaldo Hahn links: Wikipedia page, Classical Archives page (click the about/bio tab), Naxos info page, Reynaldo Hahn Society page (in French).

If you do one thing while looking at this post, you MUST watch the first video posted below!  It really puts the whole piece in perspective.

Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) was the French composer of such famous works as Carnival of the Animals, the opera Samson et Delila, Danse Macabre, and the Organ Symphony.  He was a child prodigy who became France’s most renowned composer.  Late in life, he traveled to all corners of the world.

Bacchanale comes from his 1877 opera Samson et Delila, which is based on the Biblical story of those 2 characters.  In both the opera and the Bible, Samson is a leader of the Israelites, who are in the midst of a revolt against their malevolent rulers, the Philistines.  The Philistines want to bring him down, so they send one of their own, a woman named Delila, to seduce him and discover the source of his extreme physical strength. It turns out that secret is his long hair, which binds him in a vow to God. But Samson does not let that secret slip easily: he misleads Delila several times before finally revealing the true secret.  Yet when that is done, Delila shaves his hair while he sleeps, allowing the Philistines to capture and blind him.  After years of forced labor at their hands, Samson winds up in the temple of Dagon, one of the Philistine deities, in Gaza.  There, he prays to God to restore his strength, and he pulls down the central columns of the temple, killing himself and all of the Philistines inside.  Each version of the story has its nuances (e.g., the Bible says Samson killed 1000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass!) so it’s worth your time to investigate both.  The Bacchanale occurs in Act III of the opera, just before Samson is led into the temple of Dagon.  It is a depraved dance performed by the priests of Dagon.  Saint-Saens loved “exotic” sounds, so he used an exceptionally exotic sounding scale for a good chunk of the piece: it contains two one-and-a-half step gaps (from the 2nd to 3rd steps and the 6th to 7th steps).  While that does heighten the exoticness of the piece, it is not authentic to any world musical tradition.

Here it is in the actual opera.  They’re almost naked!

For something a little different, Gustavo Dudamel leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Bacchanale.  He plays a little fast and loose with tempo, but it’s really a thrilling version!

Here’s the band version done by a Japanese middle school.  As I’ve come to expect from young Japanese bands, they knock it out of the park: this is the only band version on YouTube that’s any good at all, and I looked at a couple dozen!

Saint-Saens bio at the Classical Archives.

Saint-Saens on Wikipedia.

Another Saint-Saens bio on thinkquest.

Some extra program notes on Bacchanale from the Immaculata Symphony

Did you know that the Bible is fully online?  Here’s the Samson and Delilah story in full, from the Book of Judges.

French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) is a unique figure in music history.  He never mastered one single instrument, dabbling in the guitar and flute early in his life.  He initially studied medicine before leaving school to become a composer.  His most famous work is among his earliest: the Symphonie Fantastique.  He developed a great love for Shakespeare, basing several of his composition on the bard’s work.  He was prone to fits of passion and obsession in both his life and his music.  As a young man he fell madly in love with Harriet Smithson, an actress whom he saw play Ophelia in Hamlet.  He pursued her for years and finally convinced her to marry him, only to have the marriage fall apart in short order.  He wrote his music on a grand scale: his Requiem, for example, was scored for: 20 woodwinds; a brass section of 12 horns, 4 cornets and tubas, and 4 additional antiphonal brass choirs of 38 musicians total; 26 percussionists on 16 timpani, 10 cymbals and more; more than 100 strings; a choir of at least 210 voices, plus a tenor soloist.  That’s over 400 musicians in total.  His experience with such immense musical forces lent him great expertise in instrumentation and orchestration, and led him to write a treatise on the subject.  He was prolific as a writer and critic throughout his life, often supporting his family on his writer’s income between compositions.

The “March to the Scaffold” is the fourth of five movements in the Symphonie Fantastique.  The symphony as a whole tells the story, in music, of a troubled young artist and his quest for his true love.  The true love is represented musically by a melody known as the idee fixe (fixed idea).  This melody appears in every movement of the symphony.  The first movement introduces the idee fixe and chronicles the beginnings of the young artist’s quest.  The second is a waltz, moving the action to a fabulous-sounding ball.  The third moves to an imagined countryside where a storm is brewing, reminiscent of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.  The fourth movement takes on a nightmarish character: having taken opium, the young artist dreams that he has killed his true love and is about to be executed for his crime.  This movement thus depicts the artist’s forced march to the scaffold.  The idee fixe appears only once, as a sudden remeniscence just before the guillotine strikes the young man’s head right off and the movement comes to a perversely joyous conclusion.  The symphony’s final movement imagines the young artist, still in his opium dream, transported to hell.  Here he sees his true love, now grotesque and distorted in comically demonic fashion.  The creatures of hell amass around the artist, gleefully celebrating his demise.

Berlioz wrote his own program to the piece, which he provided for audience members to read as they listened.  Two versions of it are reprinted here.  I prefer the first.

There is one go-to site on Berlioz: The Hector Berlioz Website. Go here for literally everything you could possibly want to know about him, including a detailed biography, descriptions of every work, and also downloadable scores of several of his works.

Symphonie Fantastique has many varied descriptions and tributes on the web:

Wikipedia

NPR

An AOL member. Includes a manuscript of the idee fixe.

A British rock musician. He modernizes the program and discusses why Berlioz is still relevant.

This just scratches the surface.  Google it for even more!

The band version of “March to the Scaffold”:

Finally, “March to the Scaffold” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France:

From the CUWE program archive:

In 1910, Igor Stravinsky (b.1882 in Russia, d.1971 in New York) premiered The Firebird ballet with the Ballet Russe, and it became an international success.  Although he was not well known before this, Stravinsky became one of the most famous modern Russian composers.  He is also acclaimed for his ballets Petrouchka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).  Stravinsky received little early musical training, and it was not until he studied under the great Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov that his musical talents became ignited.  Stravinsky arranged three suites that highlighted excerpts from The Firebird ballet.  This afternoon, we will be playing the “Berceuse and Finale” from the suite.  Based on a Russian folktale, The Firebird tells the story of Prince Ivan’s encounter with “a fabulous bird with plumage of fire.”  The bird gives Ivan a magic feather that he may use in the face of danger.  Afraid of being turned to stone by an evil King, Ivan uses the magic feather and the Firebird appears to help him.  In the “Berceuse and Finale”, the Firebird frees all who have been turned to stone, and Ivan wins the hand of a lovely princess.

author unknown (not me), from the Spring 2004 “Russian” concert program.

That pretty much says it all.  Below are some links.  Bear in mind that this piece is performed so often that most links are advertisements for performances or recordings of the work!  I will do my best to omit those below.

Score excerpts from the ballet on Google Books.

The ballet and concert suites on Wikipedia.

The folk tale upon which the ballet is based, also on Wikipedia.

Program notes from Pomona College.

Extensive program notes on the ballet from the Kennedy Center.

Igor Stravinsky on Wikipedia.

Igor Stravinsky in the Time 100, remembering the greatest figures of the 20th century, by composer Philip Glass.

The “Lullabye and Final Hymn” (“Berceuse and Finale” as we know them) conducted by the man himself, Maestro Stravinsky at age 82!!  Things I love about this performance: Stravinsky’s minimal and nearly affect-less conducting; the endless tempo in the Lullabye section; Stravinsky’s only change of facial expression at the very end of the Finale; the comically short quarter notes in the final section (which we will not replicate!); the fact that Stravinsky walks with a cane, but does not need it when conducting.  Enjoy this true gem of a video!

The complete ballet, company and orchestra unknown:

This was a Senior Choice for hornist Justine Ordinario ’09.