Berlioz: Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Symphonie fantastique

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Berlioz: Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, Symphonie fantastique 1:08:57 $11.98
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1 Overture to Benvenuto Cellini 10:47 44.1/16 Album only
2 Symphonie fantastique: I. Daydreams, Passions, Largo - Allegro agitato e appassionato assai) 16:14 44.1/16 Album only
3 Symphonie fantastique: II. A Ball, Valse. Allegro non troppo) 7:09 44.1/16 Album only
4 Symphonie fantastique: III. In the Meadows, Adagio 17:31 44.1/16 Album only
5 Symphonie fantastique: IV. March to the Scaffold, Allegretto non troppo) 6:43 44.1/16 Album only
6 Symphonie fantastique: V. Dream of a Witches' Sabbath, Larghetto - Allegro) 10:33 44.1/16 Album only

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This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Hector Berlioz, the greatest French composer of his era. His training and musical inclinations led him to shun many kinds of compositions cultivated by other masters—chamber music, keyboard works (his instrument was the guitar), and so forth. In his own time, as in ours, orchestral pieces won and secured his fame. His Symphonie fantastique, premiered when he was age 26, earned him early renown and has in recent years, according to statistics compiled by the American Symphony Orchestra League, become the most frequently performed orchestral work in this country. Struggling with Opera The realm in which Berlioz struggled the hardest over the course of his career was the all- important one of opera. While he brilliantly rose to the genre’s challenges in musical terms, he was not particularly successful in professional ones. The spectacles presented in the grand operas of a composer like Meyerbeer were easier for audiences of the time to digest than were the formidable dramatic designs and rich orchestrations Berlioz offered. His sparkling Béatrice et Bénédict (based on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing) and monumental Les Troyens (which is “Virgil Shakespearized”) were eventually rediscovered in the late 20th century, and are now performed and available on recordings. Berlioz destroyed most of his unperformed first opera, Les francs-juges, although he recycled some parts in later compositions. Its overture, his first published orchestral work, became quite popular during his lifetime. Berlioz’s next grand project, the opera semi-seria Benvenuto Cellini, has yet to receive its proper due, although some companies are performing it during this anniversary year. Even in the periods of their greatest neglect, however, Berlioz’s operas have lived on in public awareness due to their overtures and instrumental entr’actes. Together with his concert overtures—beloved works like Le Corsaire and Waverley— they have secured Berlioz’s position as one of the preeminent Romantic composers of overtures. Named for the 16th-century painter and sculptor whose adventurous life it romanticized, Benvenuto Cellini was particularly dear to Berlioz’s heart, which made its long and fraught genesis and performance travails all the more painful. Begun in the early 1830s, work on Cellini dragged on for nearly two decades. The opera’s first version, premiered at the Paris Opéra in September 1838, was unsuccessful, with only three more complete performances and three partial ones presented over the next few months. The failure was one of the biggest disappointments in Berlioz’s career: “My opera Benvenuto Cellini contains a variety of ideas, an energy and exuberance and a brilliance of color the likes of which I may perhaps never find again,” he wrote in his Memoirs. Franz Liszt revived Cellini in Weimar in 1852, at which time the two-act opera was substantially revised and turned into three acts. Berlioz commented: “I have just been through it carefully again after 13 years of oblivion and I swear I shall never again find such verve and Cellinian impetuosity nor such variety of ideas.” Although Liszt’s venture was decidedly more successful than the Paris premiere, a single performance at London’s Covent Garden the following year, before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, was a fiasco. But through all these misfortunes, from the Paris debut to the London debacle, the Overture pleased, indeed it often triumphed. The initial reaction, as Berlioz recalled, established the pattern: “The Overture was extravagantly applauded; the rest was hissed with exemplary precision and energy.” Berlioz frequently conducted the Overture as a separate concert piece. And, in fact, Benvenuto Cellini generated an even more popular concert offering—the Roman Carnival Overture. After the disappointments of the Paris production and assuming the opera would never again see the light of day, Berlioz, as he often did, sought to salvage parts of the opera by putting them to use in another work. He therefore crafted the Roman Carnival, which he premiered in February 1844 and frequently conducted to considerable acclaim. A Closer Look The opera’s plot concerns Cellini’s love for Teresa Balducci, daughter of the Papal treasurer. The artist is late with a Papal commission, for what was to become his celebrated Perseus statue. (Berlioz saw Cellini’s magnificent statue in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria while in Italy after winning the Prix de Rome.) Despondent, Cellini tries to elope with Teresa, but when he is caught he impulsively kills his rival Pompeo as he attempts to stop him. Cellini is confronted and threatened with the death penalty, but the Cardinal offers him clemency if he can swiftly finish the long-overdue commission. Completing the statue brilliantly, he goes free, and wins Teresa as well. The Overture begins with a forceful flourish that captures the color and rhythmic vitality abundant in the opera and that characterizes so much of Berlioz’s music after his Italian years. The theme plucked by lower strings that starts the following slow section is derived from the Cardinal’s arioso near the end of the opera in which he grants Cellini absolution. Woodwinds state a new theme, immediately taken up by the strings, which derives from the Harlequin’s charming arietta in the Roman carnival scene. There suddenly erupts the main segment of the piece that revels in the ebullient atmosphere of the carnival festivities and concludes with the layering on top of the Cardinal’s clemency theme. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2003. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14 Composed in 1830 Hector Berlioz Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, according to statistics compiled by the American Symphony Orchestra League, emerged in the 1990s as the most frequently performed orchestral work in America. Like Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Berlioz’s amazing first symphony is a revolutionary composition that eventually triumphed over all objections and became enshrined as a concert favorite, a warhorse. It requires some historical imagination, therefore, to try to recapture the shocking aspects of the work, written by a composer in his mid 20s, and appreciate the ways in which it helped to change the subsequent history of music. Romantic Innovations Not only is the Symphonie fantastique ubiquitous in concerts and on recordings, it turns up in nearly every music appreciation textbook as the quintessential example of musical Romanticism. Although premiered in 1830, just three years after Beethoven’s death, some of its novel features seem to point far into the future, building on Beethoven’s own innovations. (Berlioz briefly alludes to the Ninth Symphony in the Symphonie’s third movement, which owes a debt to the “Pastoral” Symphony as well.) Beethoven had found remarkable ways of unifying large, multi- movement works, especially in his Fifth and Ninth symphonies, by recycling motives. Such “cyclicism” had a profound impact on Romantic composers, who took the concept even further: the musical materials were ingeniously transformed. One strategy Berlioz uses to unify the Symphonie fantastique is to have a melody, which he calls an idée fixe, appear in each of the five movements, sometimes in quite different guises. This purely musical technique—thematic transformation—supports an extra- musical, programmatic, literary, and ultimately personal goal. Romanticism saw a new relationship to literature. Berlioz adored the works of Shakespeare and Virgil in particular, and this found expression not only in his symphonic works and operas, but also in his delightful memoirs and other writings. In the Symphonie fantastique, Berlioz tells a story. He devised a program (excerpted below) that was to be handed out at the performances. Indeed, the flyer states that distribution of the program to the audience is “indispensable for a complete understanding of the dramatic outline of the work.” At a time before programs were regularly given out at concerts, such an idea was unusual. (Berlioz also had the story printed in advance in various newspapers.) Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony is often pointed to as an earlier programmatic model. But Beethoven was quite clear about what he was doing—he wrote in sketches for the work: “more an expression of feeling than painting” and “painting carried too far in instrumental music loses its effect.” In other words, Beethoven and most previous composers sought to express and convey an atmosphere, not to be realistic. Berlioz wanted it both ways—he wanted to express emotions and feelings but also to tell a story, much as an opera did. He did not shy away from representing concrete events in his music. Romantic Passions Berlioz chose not any old story: it was autobiographical. The subjectivity of the Romantic artist is a commonplace—the urge for self-expression and release. The Symphony is called “Episode in the Life of an Artist,” and that young artist is clearly Berlioz himself. His passion for Shakespeare inspired him in September 1827 to attend performances at the Paris Odéon Theater of Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet that featured the young Irish actress Harriet Smithson. He soon fell hopelessly in love, even though he could barely understand a word of the English- language productions. “By the third act, half suffocated by emotion,” he wrote of Smithson’s portrayal of Juliet, “with the grip of an iron hand upon my heart, I cried out to myself, ‘I am lost! I am lost!’” The initial course of this passion (to cut to the chase: they later married, but eventually divorced) coincided with the genesis of the Symphonie fantastique and left its mark on the story. Berlioz heard gossip, for example, that Miss Smithson was having an affair with her manager. This led to real flights of Romantic fancy in the Symphony. Berlioz has his musical “hero” take an overdose of opium (then very much in fashion among artists as evident in De Quincey’s Confessions of an Opium Eater), but this induces a “bad trip” in which he murders his former beloved, is sentenced to be executed, and dreams of a wild witches’ Sabbath. This combination of sex, drugs, and the Gothic was also typically Romantic and Berlioz brings it all off with startling brilliance. From the very first performance, in December 1830, the final two movements—the execution march and witches’ Sabbath— have proved the most popular. Berlioz had, in fact, written the “March to the Scaffold” some years earlier for an unfinished opera and decided to incorporate it in the Symphony by adding a brief coda in which we hear the idée fixe, followed by the slice of the guillotine, the head bouncing to the ground, and the cheers of the crowd. It is all very graphic and wonderful. A New World of Sound There is another musical point that helps to define the extraordinary historical importance of this Symphony: the sound world that Berlioz creates. The composer’s own instrument was the guitar and perhaps that skewed his way of thinking of chords and colors. The great 20th-century French composer Olivier Messiaen once gave a summary of some thousand years of musical history in which he remarked that composers “began to be aware of the field of timbre [pure musical sound] with Berlioz, the father of modern orchestration. Berlioz was the first to understand the role of timbre and specific timbre, for previously—I’m thinking of Bach and his contemporaries—timbres were interchangeable. ... [Berlioz’s] music is full of absolutely irreplaceable timbres. I’ll cite you a wonderful example: the tolling of the bell at the end of the Symphonie fantastique.” We tend to think of music primarily in terms of the nature of melody and rhythm, but here Messiaen points to a crucial dimension of music whose importance is sheer sound. Berlioz was a master conductor and author of a famous treatise on orchestration. He often wrote for enormous ensembles—he at one point specified 220 players for the Symphonie fantastique—and used individual instruments with extreme precision, both with respect to the ones he calls for and how he asks them to play. He employs some unusual ones: cornets, English horn, the small E- flat clarinet, ophicleides (which are like tubas), and the church bells Messiaen so admired. Even the more familiar instruments are asked to produce special effects with mutes, slides, and various bow or blowing techniques. In the visual arts we recognize that certain painters produce much of their power not from the subjects they paint, or even from the formal design, but from color and texture. Just as a black and white photograph of an Impressionist painting tends to lose crucial aspects of its effect, so, too, a piano arrangement of Berlioz’s Symphony would inevitably do the work a greater injustice than one of a Beethoven symphony. (That Liszt made just such a keyboard transcription of the Symphonie fantastique in 1833, and that Robert Schumann could write a brilliant review of the Symphony based only on this arrangement, speaks to the imaginative powers of all three composers.) It should be noted that Berlioz revised the Symphony many times before its first publication in 1845 (Liszt’s arrangement was the only printed source available for years), and that in the process he significantly changed the orchestration, as well as some of the formal elements of the piece. We are not exactly sure what the music sounded like at the 1830 premiere, and it may not have been quite as bold and imaginative as the piece we now know so well. A Closer Look: Berlioz’s Program Berlioz also wrote many versions of the program for the Symphonie fantastique, which differ in minor as well as significant ways. The earliest one appeared in selected newspapers in advance of the work’s premiere, but was different from what was actually distributed at the concert, and different still from ones used on later occasions. In 1832 Berlioz wrote a sequel to the Symphony called Lélio, or the Return to Life, which was meant to be performed on the same concert after the Symphonie fantastique. In this case the entire earlier symphony is cast under the haze of a drug- induced fantasy from which the “hero” emerges at the start of Lélio. Below is a condensed version of the program published in the first printed edition of the full score of the Symphony in 1845. The composer’s intention has been to develop, insofar as they contain musical possibilities, various situations in the life of an artist. The outline of the instrumental drama, which lacks the help of words, needs to be explained in advance. The following program should thus be considered as the spoken text of an opera, serving to introduce the musical movements, whose character and expression it motivates. First Movement: Daydreams, Passions The composer imagines that a young musician, troubled by that spiritual sickness which a famous writer has called the emptiness of passions, sees for the first time a woman who possesses all the charms of the ideal being he has dreamed of, and falls desperately in love with her. ... The beloved vision never appears to the artist’s mind except in association with a musical idea, in which he perceives the same character—impassioned, yet refined and diffident—that he attributes to the object of his love. This melodic image and its model pursue him unceasingly like a double idée fixe [fixed idea]. That is why the tune at the beginning of the first Allegro constantly recurs in every movement of the Symphony. ... Second Movement: A Ball The artist is placed in the most varied circumstances: amid the tumult of a party; in peaceful contemplation of the beauty of nature—but everywhere, in town, in the meadows, the beloved vision appears before him, bringing trouble to his soul. Third Movement: In the Meadows One evening in the country, he hears in the distance two shepherds playing a pastoral song; this duet, the effect of his surroundings, the slight rustle of the trees gently stirred by the wind ... all combine to bring an unfamiliar peace to his heart, and a more cheerful color to his thoughts. He thinks of his loneliness; he hopes soon to be alone no longer. ... But suppose she deceives him! This mixture of hope and fear, these thoughts of happiness disturbed by a dark foreboding, form the subject of the Adagio. At the end, one of the shepherds again takes up the song. The other no longer answers. ... Sounds of distant thunder ... solitude ... silence. Fourth Movement: March to the Scaffold The artist, now knowing beyond all doubt that his love is not returned, poisons himself with opium. The dose of the narcotic, too weak to take his life, plunges him into a sleep accompanied by the most horrible visions. He dreams that he has killed the woman he loved, and that he is condemned to death, brought to the scaffold, and witnesses his own execution. The procession is accompanied by a march that is sometimes fierce and somber, sometimes stately and brilliant. ... At the end of the march, the first four bars of the idée fixe recur like a last thought of love. Fifth Movement: Sabbath Night’s Dream He sees himself at the witches’ sabbath, in the midst of a ghastly crowd of spirits, sorcerers, and monsters of every kind, assembled for his funeral. Strange noises, groans, bursts of laughter, far-off shouts to which other shouts seem to reply. The beloved tune appears once more, but it has lost its character of refinement and diffidence; it has become nothing but a common dance tune, trivial and grotesque; it is she who has come to the sabbath. ... A roar of joy greets her arrival. ... She mingles with the devilish orgy. ... Funeral knell, ludicrous parody of the Dies irae, Sabbath round dance. The sabbath dance and the Dies irae in combination. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2007. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST One of today’s leading international conductors, at the time of this recording Christoph Eschenbach was in his fourth season as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra, continues his creative artistic partnership with the venerable ensemble. Held in highest esteem by the world’s foremost orchestras and opera houses for his commanding presence, versatility, and consummate musicianship, Mr. Eschenbach has been acclaimed for his creative insight and dynamic energy as a conductor, a collaborator, and champion of young musicians. Highlights of his current Orchestra season include tributes to Mozart and Shostakovich, and the continuation of the Orchestra’s five-season long, first-ever Mahler cycle. In addition to his work with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Eschenbach continues as music director of the Orchestre de Paris. This season he also leads the Berlin Philharmonic and the Hamburg NDR Symphony. He appears at Carnegie Hall leading the Curtis Symphony and accompanying baritone Matthias Goerne on piano. A prolific recording artist, Mr. Eschenbach has made numerous recordings, as conductor, pianist, or both. His recordings include works from J.S. Bach to music of our time, and he has been an ardent champion of 20th-century music on disc. Before turning to conducting, Mr. Eschenbach earned a distinguished reputation as a concert pianist. He began winning major competitions at age 11, and made his United States debut in 1969 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Eschenbach learned the art of conducting under, among others, Mr. Szell, who personally took him as his protégé, and with whom he worked for over three years. In addition, Herbert von Karajan was his mentor for nearly 25 years, and Mr. Eschenbach credits him as having had a tremendous influence on his development as a conductor. Mr. Eschenbach’s conducting debut was in Hamburg in 1972. He made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut as a pianist in 1973; his Philadelphia conducting debut was in 1989. He was named principal guest conductor of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra in 1981, becoming chief conductor from 1982 to 1986. Additional posts include music director of the Houston Symphony (1988-1999); chief conductor of the Hamburg NDR Symphony (1998-2004); music director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1999-2002); and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (1994-2003). Among Mr. Eschenbach’s awards are the title of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France, the Légion d’honneur of France, the Officer’s Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit, the Commander’s Cross of the German Order of Merit, and the Leonard Bernstein Award, presented to him by the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director from 1992 to 1998. Additional information about Mr. Eschenbach can be found at his website, 4/2007 PRODUCTION CREDITS Producer: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Assistant Editor: Jason O’Connell Bio Photo: Jessica Griffin