December 25, 2013

FROM THE ARCHIVES: HE EVEN BRINGS OUT THE BEST IN THE FRENCH:

A Christmas Trilogy: Berlioz's intimate, inventive 'L'Enfance du Christ' (BARRYMORE LAURENCE SCHERER, 12/26/09, WSJ)

From Handel's "Messiah" to Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," most everyone has his favorite seasonal music. Mine is Hector Berlioz's trilogy, "L'Enfance du Christ" (The Infancy of Christ), a surprisingly intimate score from a composer best known for such blockbusters as the "Symphonie Fantastique" and the towering Requiem. "L'Enfance du Christ" is probably the composer's most gentle choral work, characterized by numerous dynamic markings instructing that passages be played piano (soft), pianissimo (very soft), and even pianississimo (extremely soft).

It originated in a surprisingly offhanded gesture. In 1850, while a bored guest at a Parisian party, Berlioz was asked to write in a friend's autograph album. On the spur of the moment he began to jot down a few bars of music. "It seemed to have a rustic style," Berlioz later recalled, "and also to suggest a naïve mystical feeling, so I immediately invented some appropriate words for it. It became a chorus of shepherds in Bethlehem, bidding farewell to the infant Jesus as the Holy Family departs for Egypt."

Scholars have suggested that Berlioz may have previously visited the Louvre, viewing its many paintings of the Flight into Egypt. Whatever his inspiration, he soon followed this musical autograph with a movement called "The Repose of the Holy Family," and then with an overture. In November of that year, needing a choral piece to fill out a concert program, he decided to link the overture and two movements together and present them as the work of a fictitious 17th-century French composer he called Pierre Ducré.


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Posted by at December 25, 2013 3:04 AM
  

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