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Les Troyens: Orchestral excerpts (H 133)

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Combat de Ceste, from  Act I
Act II Scene 1
Lamento for Les Troyens à Carthage
3 Entrances
, from Act III
Trojan march in the minor key, from Act III
Royal Hunt and Storm
3 Ballets,
from Act IV

    See also Texts and Documents; Berlioz Libretti; Berlioz and his music: self-borrowings; The première of Les Troyens in 1863; A neglected source for les Troyens?

    Written between 1856 to 1858 and revised up to 1863, Les Troyens was Berlioz’s largest and most ambitious work, and the summation of his entire artistic career. Its origins go back to his childhood and his reading of Virgil’s Aeneid under his father’s instruction, as he recalls in his Memoirs (chapter 2). Thereafter Virgil was never far from his thoughts – citations from the Roman poet abound throughout his writings, and notably in his correspondence and his feuilletons. The trip to Italy in 1831-2 gave Berlioz the opportunity to visit some of the places associated with Virgil’s epic. The great work thus matured in his mind for many years before he eventually undertook to write it, after much hesitation, as he recalls in his Memoirs. It represented the convergence of a multiplicity of influences, literary and musical. On the literary side Berlioz ascribed a major part to Shakespeare’s influence in addition to that of Virgil. On the musical side the major influences were those of Gluck and Spontini. For Berlioz the composition of Les Troyens represented thus in many ways a return to his roots.

Combat de Ceste (Boxing fight)

    This short and lively dance is taken from Act I of Les Troyens. It follows the ceremonial march and hymn of the Trojan people (Dieux protecteurs de la ville éternelle) and precedes the entrance of the tragic figure of Andromache and her son, when the music changes to a minor key and a much slower tempo. The name is derived from the Latin caestus, a kind of leather glove loaded with balls of lead and used in boxing matches. Berlioz almost certainly borrowed the idea of this dance from the funeral games in Book V of Virgil’s Aeneid.

Act II Scene 1

    Act II of Les Troyens takes place the night after the Trojans have introduced the gigantic wooden horse, full of Greek soldiers, into the city. Aeneas lies asleep in his palace, to the sound of fighting in the distance (bars 1-25). His son Ascanius, frightened by the sounds, makes a brief appearance but withdraws without waking his father (bars 26-74). The shade of Hector then strides in majestically and looks at Aeneas asleep (bars 75-89). Aeneas wakes abruptly and addresses Hector (bars 90-106), who warns him of the fate of Troy and orders him to escape and seek out Italy where he is to found a new empire (bars 107-35). After this Hector withdraws to the same eerie music that had accompanied his entry (bars 136-42).

    This scene of Act II is based on Virgil’s Aeneid, Book II, lines 250-97. Both Aeneas’ address to Hector and Hector’s warning follow very closely the wording of Virgil’s text (lines 281-6 for Aeneas, 289-95 for Hector). But Berlioz characteristically adds an element that is missing from his Virgilian original – the brief entry of the frightened boy Ascanius, to the accompaniment of fast and delicate music that contrasts strikingly with the solemn music of the rest of the scene. The music in this scene is pervaded with motifs that recur elsewhere in the opera, notably the bass line in the orchestral introduction (bars 2-4, 6-7, 12-14, 16-17), which is associated with Cassandra and her prophetic warnings of doom in the first two Acts, and the rhythm in bars 1-3, 12-13, 66-9, 92-6, 98-100 and 104-5, associated throughout the opera with fate. The slow descending chromatic scale of Hector’s warning (bars 107-35) recurs in Act V towards the end of the opera, but this time connected with Dido’s decision to take her own life after burning on a funeral pyre the gifts she had received from Aeneas.

    In order not to cut off the music abruptly the whole scene is given in full score up to the start of the scene that follows, but the parts of Aeneas and Hector have been silenced.

Lamento for Les Troyens à Carthage

    This piece was not part of Berlioz’s original design, in which the work was conceived as one single opera in five acts, but resulted from the compromise forced on Berlioz by the realisation that he would have to settle for a truncated version if he was ever going to see the work staged in Paris. It was eventually performed in November and December of 1863 at the newly built Théâtre Lyrique, but shorn of the first two acts, and with numerous cuts in the remaining three which were produced under the name of Les Troyens à Carthage. For this production a prologue was composed by Berlioz in June 1863 to summarise the action before; the prologue is preceded by the orchestral Lamento presented here. The Lamento looks back to the first two acts – its main theme is taken from the scene and duet between Cassandra and Coroebus in Act I, but at a much slower tempo the music now takes on the character of a funeral dirge, like a lament over the fall of Troy and the fate of its people. But it also looks forward to what is to come. The phrase in the violins (bars 4-8), and again in the violas and cellos (bars 12-16), carries multiple echoes – it alludes to the first aria of Cassandra in Act I (Malheureux roi), but also anticipates a theme prominent in Act III in the duet between Dido and her sister Anna, then in Dido’s monologue preceding the entry of the Trojans (Errante sur les mers). It also carries an echo of Dido’s final recitative and aria in Act V in which she resolves to die after being abandoned by Aeneas (Inutile prière d’un cœur qui se déchire).

3 Entrances from Act III

    These three orchestral pieces are part of the opening scenes of Act III, when Dido addresses the people of Carthage and celebrates the achievements of the city seven years after its foundation. As part of the festivities processions of various trades — builders, sailors, farm-workers — come forward before the queen who presents them with symbolic gifts. Though short all three pieces are exquisitely crafted and characterised, and add further variety and colour to the opening scenes. They form an integral part of the work and should never be omitted, but as Berlioz mentions they were cut from the first performances of Les Troyens à Carthage in November and December 1863 and this deplorable practice is sometimes followed in modern performances.

Trojan march in the minor key from Act III

    This orchestral piece occurs later in Act III and accompanies the entrance of the Trojan refugees who have just arrived in Carthage and are introduced before Dido. When it is first heard in the opera, at the conclusion of Act I, the Trojan March is in a bright major key (B flat), while here the minor key (also B flat) reflects the broken fortunes of the Trojan people after the fall of Troy and their flight overseas. The piece should be compared with the orchestral version of the Trojan March which is itself derived from the version of the march at the conclusion of Act I.
    Note: the part of Dido in bars 16-21 is omitted here.

Royal Hunt and Storm

    This symphonic interlude comes between Acts III and IV of Les Troyens. The idea was suggested to Berlioz by a passage in Virgil’s Aeneid (Book IV, lines 117-168), but as so often with Berlioz’s use of literature for music his treatment of the episode is very much his own and goes well beyond his Virgilian original. The scene shows an African forest with a high rock at the back and the opening of a cave on the left; two naiads are seen bathing in a pool nearby. This tranquil scene is interrupted by the sound of hunting horns and the entrance of Trojan and Carthaginian hunters. A thunderstorm gathers, at the climax of which Dido and Aeneas are seen entering the cave, while satyrs, fauns and sylvans perform grotesque dances and utter cries of "Italie!" to remind Aeneas of his destiny. The storm gradually subsides and tranquility returns.

    In Berlioz’s hands, the Royal Hunt and Storm is much more than a magnificent piece of nature painting, remarkable as it is for (among much else) its orchestration and the use of complex simultaneous rhythms. The storm is of course both literal and metaphorical: it represents the rise and fall of the love of Dido and Aeneas. It is no accident that the opening chromatic phrase is found elsewhere in Berlioz in contexts which express the awakening of love – the opening of part II of Romeo and Juliet (Romeo’s sadness), or the aria of Beatrice in Act II of Beatrice and Benedict (Il m’en souvient), which is quoted in the overture (bars 39-67, esp. the phrase at bars 47-51). The chromatic phrase of the introduction recurs in the subsequent allegretto (bars 175-183, 201-3), then at the climax of the storm (bars 266 and following) before gradually dying away, to be replaced by a return of the diatonic theme heard in the introduction (bars 30 and following, then bars 309 and following) and a final recall of the hunting horns, but this time in a slower tempo.

        The concert version of the piece presented here contains the same music as in the opera, but with a less elaborate orchestration (in the opera the hunting fanfares are given to off-stage brass bands); the chorus with its cries of "Italie!" at the climax of the storm has also been omitted.

    Two technical points:
    (1) In order to obtain the correct note values on playback it has been necessary to notate a number of triplets and sextuplets in full and not in abbreviated form (bars 208-210, 212-13 for the piccolo; bars 266-8, 272-4 for violins and violas; bars 284-298 for the violins; bars 295-9 for the violas).
    (2) Berlioz’s tempo marking for the quick section (starting at bar 44) is Allegretto, a marking he uses in different senses according to the context (see Hugh Macdonald in Berlioz Studies ed. Peter Bloom [1992], pages 35-6, though he does not discuss the Royal Hunt and Storm). He gives a metronome mark of dotted crotchet = 112, which is brisker than in most modern performances. To enable the listener to judge, the piece is provided in two versions, the first with Berlioz’s metronome marks (there is no problem with the opening larghetto), the second with a slower tempo for the Allegretto (here dotted crotchet = 100) which is close to modern performing practice. The first version involves a more abrupt slowing down in the closing pages (from bar 284 onwards) in order to bring the tempo back to that of the opening larghetto, which seems required by the context (bar 309 onwards).

3 Ballets from Act IV

    These 3 ballets come early in Act IV and accompany the celebrations held at Carthage after Aeneas’ defeat of the hostile Numidian chieftain Iarbas. They were written towards the end of 1859 and early in 1860, some time after the main body of the work which was composed in 1856-8. As well as containing fine and characteristic music, the ballets play an integral role in the work and are more than elegant concessions to the conventions of the Paris Opéra (for which Les Troyens was originally intended). At the height of the festivities and the seeming happiness of Dido and Aeneas, the prevailing note of regret and loss struck by the music seems to hint at the tragedy that is to follow. There are also echoes that seem deliberate. The first ballet alludes obliquely (bars 46-52 and 56-62) to Narbal’s foreboding in his aria at the start of the Act (De quels revers menaces-tu Carthage, sombre avenir?): key, time signature, melody, harmony, and instrumental colour are similar (note the use of the trombones in the background). The same could be suggested for a passage in the second ballet (bars 65-82 and 92-100). The last ballet, in the exotic vein that Berlioz had used previously in Part I of l’Enfance du Christ (cf. the dance of the sooth-sayers), is predominantly in the same key in which Act IV will end, when the intervention of the god Mercury shatters the dream of the two lovers and drags the music away from the rarefied G flat major of the duet to the cold reality of E minor.

    With this latter ballet may be compared the description given by Berlioz (in Les Soirées de l’orchestre, XXIst soirée) of a performance he heard in London in 1851, given by two Indian musicians to the accompaniment of small drums: "One of them sang, in some Indian dialect, a pretty little melody in E minor, which only had a range of a sixth (from E to C); despite the quick tempo it was so sad, and conveyed such an impression of suffering, exile, slavery and despair, that on hearing it one was overcome with feelings of nostalgia".

    On the ballets see also the article by Pierre-René Serna on this site.

    Some technical points:
    Ballet 1: the last repeat (bars 56-65) has been written out in full to achieve the required dynamic contrast with the first statement of the passage (Berlioz asks that the repeat should be played as softly as possible).
    Ballet 2: it is not clear what tempo Berlioz intended for this movement. The metronome mark given (crotchet = 122) is problematic in two ways (cf. Hugh Macdonald in Berlioz Studies ed. Peter Bloom [1992], pages 22-3): the unit of time is given as a crotchet, not a dotted crotchet (or conceivably a quaver) as would be expected in a 6/8 time signature, and the figure of 122 does not exist on the metronome scale available to Berlioz (the nearest figure is 120). Moreover, the tempo, though viable, is significantly faster than that adopted on the complete recordings of the work (for example by Sir Colin Davis and Charles Dutoit, both similar in speed). To our knowledge the only conductor to follow the printed metronome mark is Hermann Scherchen in his 1952 recording of Les Troyens à Carthage. The piece has been presented here in two versions, the first as written by Berlioz, the second at a slightly slower tempo (crotchet = 112). Since 112 is on the metronome scale it is just possible that the figure of 122 is a mistake for it.
    Ballet 3: there is no Midi sound for the ‘cymbales antiques’ which Berlioz uses here (as he did in the Queen Mab scherzo of Romeo and Juliet); the glockenspiel has been substituted.

    Combat de Ceste (duration 1'20")
    — Score in large format
   (file created on 7.01.2000; revised 6.08.2001)

    Act II Scene 1 (duration 6'24")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 20.03.2001)

    Lamento for Les Troyens à Carthage (duration 4'18")
    — Score in large format
   (file created on 6.03.2001)

    3 Entrances from Act III:

    Entrance of the builders  (duration 1'9")
    — Score in large format
    Entrance of the sailors (duration 1'5")
    — Score in large format
    Entrance of the farm-workers (duration 1'32")
    — Score in large format
    (files created on 29.12.2001)

    Trojan march in the minor key from Act III (duration 2'8")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 1.01.2002)

    Royal Hunt and Storm (1) with Berlioz’s metronome mark for the Allegretto (duration 8'17")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 26.10.2000; revised 11.12.2001)

    Royal Hunt and Storm (2) with a slower tempo for the Allegretto (duration 8'47")
    — Score in large format
    (file created on 26.10.2000; revised 11.12.2001)

   3 Ballets from Act IV:

    Ballet 1 (duration 3'42")    
    — Score in large format
    Ballet 2 (a) with Berlioz’s metronome mark (duration 3'58")
    — Score in large format
    Ballet 2 (b) at a slower tempo (duration 4'20")
    — Score in large format
    Ballet 3 (duration 1'26")
    — Score in large format
    (files created on 27.04.2001)

© Michel Austin for all scores and text on this page.

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