Recorded on 04/07/2010, uploaded on 05/02/2010
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Known for his grandiose compositions—the Symphonie fantastique, Harold en Italie and Roméo et Juliette—that established him as the leading exponent of Romanticism in France, Hector Berlioz also contributed to the genre of art song, answering in part the call for vocal music of a French character that would be brought to fulfillment by a later generation of composers. Completed in 1841, the song cycle Les Nuits d’été (Summer Nights) is based on a collection of poems by the poet Théophile Gautier. Concerning itself with the theme of romantic love, the poems also invoke the setting indicated by the title. Berlioz originally composed the songs for low voice (mezzo-soprano, contralto or baritone) but later adapted the cycle for soprano while also rescoring the songs with orchestral accompaniment.
The first song of the cycle, “Villanelle,” portrays two lovers walking hand-in-hand through the woods and the picturesque scenes they witness. Berlioz’s setting is predominantly strophic and somewhat reminiscent of Schubert, indicating that he was too fond of the German masters to significantly distance himself from the German Lied tradition. On the other hand, Berlioz’s harmonic treatment is quite exceptional and perhaps unexpected considering the blithe tone of Gautier’s poem. The song begins in A major with a lively accompaniment appropriate for the summertime setting. However, the key shifts suddenly to B-flat major at the end of the second line of text widening the song’s harmonic expanse. Just as quickly, F-sharp major is gained before returning to A major. As the song progresses, the listener is met with equally jarring chromaticism. However, the song is not without its tender moment and at its conclusion, one feels that he had witnessed something of the carefree gaiety and affection of the two lovers. Joseph DuBose
Courtesy of International Music Foundation.
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