The French composer Georges Bizet was born in 1838, the child of musical parents, who did a great deal to encourage his interest in music, distracting him from other pursuits by hiding books from him. In 1848 he entered the Conservatoire in Paris, where he became a pupil of the composer Gounod, while distinguishing himself as a pianist under Marmontel.
In 1857 Bizet won the Prix de Rome, the prize awarded to those young composers, painters and writers able to pass the rigorous scrutiny of the examining committee, and in accordance with the terms of the award was able to study in Rome. His return to Paris in 1860 was to bring disappointment. He had some success with earlier operas, but it was Carmen, a work that was enjoying its first run in Paris at the time of his death, that in the end had the profoundest effect on the public, arousing equal measures of enthusiasm and hostility.
L'Arlesi�nne (The Girl from Arles) was the result of a collaboration in 1872 between Bizet and the writer Alphonse Daudet, an attempt to create again the form of melodrama, a combination of music and theatre. For this purpose Daudet chose to treat the story of the vain love and suicide of a young relative of the Provencal poet Mistral. Fr�d�ri, the lover, is infatuated with the girl from Arles, who is never seen on stage, but finds that she is the mistress of a scoundrel, Mitifio. His mother persuades him to marry Vivette, a girl who has long loved him, but on the eve of his wedding Fr�d�ri meets Mitifio, remembers his old love and kills himself.
In the theatre L�Arlesi�nne was unsuccessful, partly because the audience expected a straight play, and took exception to music that some labelled Wagnerian. From the incidental music Bizet drew a suite (Suite No. 1), rewriting and rescoring the pieces for a larger orchestra than his original band of 25 players. The Prelude and Adagietto, the latter originally for string quartet, are simply re-orchestrated, while other changes were made in the Minuet, originally an intermezzo, and to the Carillon, to which 'he added a middle section drawn from elsewhere in the original score. The suite won immediate success in the concert hall. The second suite was arranged by Bizet's friend Ernest Guiraud after the composer's death.
Les dragons de Alcala
Marche du toreador
Marches des contrabandiers
It is difficult for us to understand the relative failure of the opera Carmen, when it was first staged in Paris in 1875. Bizet had enjoyed some intermittent success in the theatre, but it was above all with Prosper M�rim�e's novel that he was to find a subject fully suited to his abilities.
The story of the opera shocked audiences. It dealt with the love affair between the factory-girl Carmen and the toreador Escamillo, her flirtation with Don Jos�, a corporal of the guard, and her murder by the jealous soldier, whose life she has ruined and corrupted.
Suite No.1 opens with the Prelude to the first act, which sets the Spanish atmosphere of the piece, includes strains of the Toreador's Song, and an ominous theme of Fate, portending the murder that is to come. The Aragonaise is based on the Spanish jota and is followed by the Intermezzo that serves as a prelude to the third act, where Carmen and her gypsy smuggler companions march to their mountain encampment. It was in the Seguidilla that Carmen had first seduced Don Jos�, to secure her release from arrest on a charge of wounding a fellow-worker in the factory. The Dragoons of Alcala is the marching-song of Don Jos�'s regiment, which love for Carmen has induced him to desert. The Toreador's Song is probably the best known of all the melodies in the opera, recurring to mark the appearance of Escamillo, Carmen's toreador lover.
Suite No.2 opens with the Marche des contrabandiers, the march of Carmen's gypsy smuggler companions, and continues with the famous Haba�era, the song with which Carmen is first heard, the centre of male attention, as she comes out of the cigarette-factory. There is a night scene and music for Don Jos�'s regiment to mount guard. The suite ends with a gypsy dance.
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra
The Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, established as a professional orchestra in Bratislava (formerly Pressburg) in 1949, has won itself a considerable reputation during its relatively short existence.
Slovakia, which, with Bohemia and Moravia, became the Republic of of Czechoslovakia in 1918, was the source of a great deal of music during the years of the Habsburg Empire. This musically fertile region has been influenced by Viennese, Hungarian and Bohemian music and it is these influences that have given the Slovak Philharmonic, one of Europe's finest orchestras, its unique character. On its many international tours, and at festivals throughout Europe, the orchestra has been praised for its great musicality and it has been compared by enthusiastic critics with such world-class orchestras as the Vienna Philharmonic. The orchestra benefited considerably from the work of its distinguished conductors. These included Vaclav Talish (1949 -1952), Ludovit Rajter and Ladislav Slovak. The Czech conductor Libor Pesek was appointed resident conductor in 1981, and the present Principal Conductor is the Slovak musician Bystrik Rezucha. Zdenek Kosler has also had a long and distinguished association with the orchestra and has conducted many of its most successful recordings, among them the complete symphonies of Dvořak.
During the years of its professional existence the Slovak Philharmonic has worked under the direction of many of the most distinguished conductors from abroad, from Eugen Goossens and Malcolm Sargent to Claudio Abbado, Antal Dorati and Riccardo Muti.
The orchestra has undertaken many tours abroad, for example to Germany and Japan and has made a large number of recordings for the Czech Opus label, for Supraphon, for Hungaroton and, in recent years, for the Marco Polo label.
These recordings have brought the orchestra a growing international reputation and praise from the critics of leading international publications.
Anthony Bramall was born in London in 1957 and spent five years as a chorister at Westminster Abbey, before continuing his musical education at the Purcell School and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He attended courses in conducting under Vilem Tausky and had varied experience as a conductor in Britain, working with Northern Ireland Opera, Phoenix Opera and Spectrum Opera, becoming, in 1981, Assistant to the General Music Director in the Municipal Theatre in Pforzheim. In 1984 he won a special prize in the Hans Swarowsky Conducting Competition and the following year was guest conductor with the South German Chamber Orchestra. Since 1985 he has been Director of Music at the Municipal Theatre in Augsburg.
Reviews...a most vivid presentation of the music. - Gramophone