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Léopold de Meyer: Marche d’Isly (H 108)

Orchestration by Berlioz (?) and original version for piano

This page is also available in French

    In 1845 Berlioz made orchestral arrangements of two marches for piano by the Austrian composer Léopold de Meyer (1816-1883), the Marche Marocaine and the Marche d’Isly, but whereas the Marche Marocaine (H 105) was published in Berlioz’s time and has been included in the New Berlioz Edition (volume 22b), the orchestrated Marche d’Isly was never published and is frequently deemed to have been lost altogether. A manuscript of an orchestral version of this march, in the hand of Pierre-Aimable Rocquemont, a copyist who worked for Berlioz, is extant and preserved in the library of the Paris Opéra. It was not included in the NBE, though there are some grounds for believing it might be Berlioz’s version. On all this see further the remarks by Pierre-René Serna on a separate page. The march is presented here in full score, and to the best of our knowledge this is the first time that it has ever been published. A transcription of the original piano version, which was published in 1845, has also been added.

I. The orchestral version

    The manuscript of the orchestral version contains some additional markings in hands different from that of Rocquemont, some in ink and others in pencil, some of which might be by Meyer and others by Berlioz (according to Holoman, Catalogue p. 274). The additions are of two kinds – some extra notes written in to various parts, and two additional lines of music written at the bottom of most pages (pages 3-4, 5-15, 17-21, 27-41 of the manuscript), which are not identified but might be for drums (it is difficult to see what else they could be, as the original manuscript score already contains parts for triangle, cymbals and bass drum). The same hand has added notes in the triangle part on pages 27-31, whereas in the original the triangle is silent until the last two bars of page 31 (bar 195). The handwriting of these particular additions is not that of Berlioz, and from a stylistic point of view it seems most unlikely that the additional parts for drums (?) and triangle should be by Berlioz, who was always very discriminating in his use of percussion. They have therefore not been included in this transcription, which seeks to reproduce the manuscript score of Rocquemont but not these additional parts.

    Rocquemont’s manuscript, though for the most part tidily written, is not flawless and some editing has been necessary.

(a) There are a number of omissions which have had to be restored. The principle ones are:

Bar 50: trombones, add mention unis
Bars 59-63: first violins, should probably be playing in octaves as at the start and end of this passage
Bar 61: Horns in D, first horn should be playing the same as second horn in second half of bar
Bars 62-63: Horns in A, should be marked unis
Bar 74, second half: violins 1 should probably be playing in octaves as in the next few bars
Bars 79 & 87: first violins, add marking unis in second half of the bar
Bar 86 or 88: there should probably a diminuendo starting here
Bar 92: missing dynamic p in all string parts
Bar 105: all string parts should be marked arco
Bar 203: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, should probably drop to p in second half of the bar, as when the phrase first appeared at bar 195; cf. the rise to mf in bar 208 then f in bar 210
Bar 204: Horns, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, violas, cellos, basses, should probably all drop to p after the first beat as is indicated for 1st and 2nd violins
Bar 211: the triangle part seems missing; it has been restored from the part for cymbals and bass drum
Bars 230-1, 245-6: the parts for horns seemed to have been omitted by error (cf. earlier, bars 226-7); in the manuscript they have been pencilled in subsequently, perhaps by Berlioz himself
Bar 240, second beat: p marking omitted in Horns in A

(b) There are some possible or definite errors, notably:

Bar 21: Horns in A, superfluous accidental (sharp)
Bar 43: 2nd Horn in D, first note probably C rather than E as written
Bars 50, 54, 58: it is not clear that the rhythm of the timpani in the first beat is correct or whether it should be the same as in all other bars in this passage
Bar 112: top E in clarinet 1 should be sharp; G of bassoon 1 should be sharp; G of trombone 2 should be sharp
Bar 131: top note of bassoon 1 should perhaps be D rather than F sharp (cf. 139, 173)
Bar 251, bassoons first beat: should probably be playing B flat not A, following the cello line (only the double basses keep the pedal A an octave lower)
Bars 258 to end (last page of the manuscript): the triangle part has been mistakenly copied from the timpani part; the rhythm played by the cymbals and bass drum has been restored instead

    It is not possible to prove (or indeed disprove) Berlioz’s authorship of the orchestration of the march. But it is at least plausible that Berlioz should be its author; apart from the general arguments adduced by Pierre-René Serna a few characteristics may be pointed to in support. There is the general economy in the orchestral writing, which introduces instruments gradually and for cumulative effect: the piece starts off with wind and horns only, then introduces the upper strings one by one and quietly from bar 13 onwards. The lower strings only come in at bar 31. The trumpets and cornets are introduced at bar 36, while trombones and ophicleid are kept till later (first at bar 50). The percussion writing is particularly notable for its restraint and effectiveness. The timpani enter quietly at bar 28 with the marking ‘baguettes d’éponges’ (frequently used by Berlioz). The bass drum enters on its own at bars 166-73, again quietly and unexpectedly off-beat. The full complement of percussion instruments is not used till bar 195, and the stress from cymbals and bass drum on the weak beat in bars 216-22 is noteworthy. Attention might also be drawn to the pizzicato passages in bars 124-7, 132-5 and 166-9, which again recall Berlioz’s practice.

    This orchestral version of the Marche d’Isly received its first modern performances since 1846 on 31 January and 2 February 2009 in two concerts at the Opéra Comique in Paris. They were given by Orchestre Ostinato conducted by Jean-Luc Tingaud and made use of a full score and orchestral parts specially made for the occasion by Michel Austin. The work was performed again, using the same orchestral material, at the Berlioz Festival at La Côte Saint-André on 28 August 2011, by the Orchestre Européen Hector Berlioz conducted by François-Xavier Roth.

II. The original piano version

    It is likely that Berlioz prepared his orchestral version directly from the printed edition of the piano original, which was published by J. Meissonier in Paris in 1845; the piece is dedicated ‘à Monsieur le Maréchal BUGEAUD, Duc d’Isly’. The transcription provided here was notated from a copy in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (catalogue number Vm 12 20324).

    Comparison between the piano version and the orchestration is instructive in various ways. The piano version is in D flat, whereas the orchestral version is in D, a key that is generally more manageable for orchestral instruments, especially strings. Coincidentally or not the same is true of Weber’s piano piece The Invitation to the Dance which Berlioz orchestrated in 1841 for performances of Der Freischütz at the Opéra (both the piano version and Berlioz’s orchestration are available on this site). Comparison between the piano version and the orchestration of Meyer’s march shows that the orchestrator has enhanced the original through a number of small but effective additions, which are not implicit in the piano version but give the work more colour, variety and character. See notably the additions in bars 13-20 (violas, second violins), 36 (trumpets and cornets), 50-7 (trombones and ophicleide), 157-9, 161-3, 187-9, 191-3 (trombones), 204-10 (trumpets, cornets, trombones, ophicleid). Mention was made above of the effective role of the percussion instruments and the timpani in enhancing the rhythm, often in unexpected ways. In general the orchestral version introduces more dynamic contrast than is present in the piano version. All of this may strengthen the case for believing that the orchestration is indeed the work of Berlioz himself, though it cannot of course provide conclusive proof.

    The piano version is notated here more or less as it stands in the 1845 edition, except for the correction of a few clear errors (bar 6: right hand, the last quaver on top should be F not E natural; bar 107: right hand, second beat, the G should be natural not flat; bar 205: right hand, the dotted quaver on top should be A flat not C; bar 226: right hand, the last quaver on top should be E flat not F). No attempt has been made to systematise either dynamics or articulation marks, which in the printed score are presented in a rather casual and inconsistent way, as the reader will observe (the left hand, for example, is almost completely devoid of articulation marks).

    Neither the printed piano version nor the manuscript of the orchestral version give any metronome mark; the tempo has been set here at crotchet = 112.

Marche d’Isly, orchestral version (duration 4'46")
— Score in large format
(file created on 16.06.2007)

Marche Triomphale d’Isly, piano version (duration 4'46")
— Score in large format
(file created on 25.06.2008)

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