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by Luca

Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869) was a French Romantic composer, best known for his compositions Symphonie fantastique and Grande messe des morts (Requiem). Berlioz made significant contributions to the modern orchestra with his Treatise on Instrumentation. He specified huge orchestral forces for some of his works, and conducted several concerts with more than 1,000 musicians. He also composed around 50 songs. His influence was critical for the further development of Romanticism, especially in composers like Richard Wagner, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Gustav Mahler and many others
Les Nuits d’été was born quietly in 1840-41, in the months following Roméo et Juliette. Berlioz’s supreme gift to the repertoire of song was composed originally for voice and piano; the orchestra version, for the most part, came much later. The poems are from a collection of 1838 by Berlioz’s friend and fellow critic Théophile Gautier (1811-72) titled La Comédie de la mort. From the poésies diverses in the second half of the volume Berlioz selected two light poems and four sultry ones for setting to music. The title is Berlioz’s own, another mark of his ongoing infatuation with Shakespeare.
So far as we know the piano-vocal version was not performed in public concert. When Berlioz left Paris for his journeys of 1842-43 he was accompanied by his mistress, the singer Marie Recio. Partly to legitimize her presence, I think, he asked Marie to participate in his concerts by offering a pair of songs, one of which was Absence. After a lovers’ misunderstanding in Frankfurt, he took the piano-vocal Absence and scored it for orchestra. This she sang for the first time in Leipzig on 23 February 1843.
In early 1856, Berlioz returned to the Nuits d’été to orchestrate the ravishing Spectre de 1a rose, with its new introduction, for the mezzo-soprano Anna Bockholtz-Falconi to sing at his forthcoming concert in Gotha. The Swiss publisher Rieter-Biedermann was present at the performance that February; delighted by what he heard, he approached Berlioz with the idea of orchestrating the remaining four of the Nuits d’été for publication. Berlioz needed little convincing.
The texts are among the best Berlioz ever set, resplendent with the characteristic imagery of the French lyric of the 1830s: young lovers culling wild strawberries in spring, the aroma of a faded rose blossom, a grey tomb in the shadow of a yew tree, distance from a rose-colored smile. It is Romantic poetry of far-off places and climes, the final barcarole, for example, alluding to Java and Scandinavia, the Baltic and the Pacific in one of the best of Berlioz’s many armchair voyages. Here Berlioz is at the pinnacle of his powers of orchestration, as can be heard in the opening cello arpeggio of Le Spectre de la rose and the languid pairing of flute and clarinet in octaves in the tune that follows. The ostinati in Sur les lagunes undulate in suggestion of a barque afloat; at the swooning phrase “Ah! sans amour, s’en aller sur la mer,” even the alliterative sibilants inform the orchestral texture. The end of Au cimetière is made exquisitely tragic by the dissonant clarinet clashes against the tonic triad, persistently delaying resolution. Note also the nod to Beethoven’s Eighth in the rhythmic structure of the Villanelle, and in Le Spectre de la rose and Absence the dissolves into revery-induced parlando declamation. All these represent stages in the maturation of the French mélodie, a genre that went on to attract Berlioz’s spiritual descendants for the remainder of the century.

1. Villanelle
Quand viendra la saison nouvelle,
Quand auront disparu les froids,
Tous les deux nous irons, ma belle,
Pour cueillir le muguet aux bois.
Sous nos pieds égrenant les perles
Que l’on voit au matin trembler.
Nous irons écouter les merles siffler.
Le printemps est venu, ma belle,
C’est le mois des amants béni;
Et l’oiseau satinant son aile,
Dit ses vers au rebord du nid.
Oh! Viens donc, sur ce banc de mousse
Pour parler de nos beaux amours,
Et dis-moi de ta voix si douce,
Loin, bien loin, égarant nos courses,
Faisant fuir le lapins caché,
Et le daim, au miroir des sources
Admirant son grand bois penché;
Puis chez nous, tout heureux, tout aisés,
En paniers enlaçant nos doigts,
Revenons, rapportant des fraises des bois.

When the new season has come,
when the cold has disappeared,
together we will go, my lovely one,
to gather lilies-of the valley in the woods.
Beneath our feet picking the pearls
that one sees trembling in the morning.
We will go to hear the blackbirds whistle.
Spring has come, my lovely one,
this is the month blessed by lovers;
and the bird, smoothing its wing,
speaks its verses from the rim of its nest.
Oh! Come here, onto this mossy bank
to speak of our beautiful love,
and say to me, in your sweet voice,
Far, very far, wandering from our path,
setting to flight the hidden rabbit,
and the buck, in the mirror of the spring
admiring its great twisted antlers;
then home, all happy and at ease,
lacing our fingers together like baskets,
we’ll return, carrying wild strawberries.

2. Le spectre de la rose
Soulève ta paupière close
Q’effleure un songe virginal!
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris, encore emperlée
Des pleurs d’argent, de l‘arrosoir,
Et, parmi la fête etoilée,
Tu me promenas tout le soir.
O toi qui de ma mort fu cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
toute les nuits mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rein, je ne réclame
Ne messi ni De Profundis,
Ce léger parfum est mon âme,
Et j’arrive du paradis.
Mon destin fut digne d’envie,
Et pour avoir un sort si beau
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie;
Car sur ton sein j’ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose
Un poet avec un baiser
Ecrivit: “Ci-git une rose,
Que tous les rois vont jalouser.”

The ghost of the rose
Lift your closed eyelids,
touched by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of a rose
which you wore last night at the ball.
You took me, still pearled
with silver tears from the watering can,
and, throughout the star-filled festival
you carried me all the evening.
Oh you who were the cause of my death,
without your being able to chase it away,
every night my rose-colored ghost
will dance by your pillow.
But fear nothing; I claim
neither mass nor requiem.
This light perfume is my soul,
and I have come from paradise.
My destiny is worthy of envy
and to have a fate so beautiful
more than one might have given his life;
since your bosom is my tomb,
And upon the alabaster where I rest
a poet has written with a kiss:
“Here lies a rose
which all kings might envy.”

3. Sur les lagunes
Ma belle amie est morte,
Je pleurerai toujours;
Sous la tombe elle emporte
Mon âme et mes amours.
Dans le ciel, sans m’attendre,
Elle se retourna;
L’ange qui l’emmena
Ne voulut pas me prendre.
Que mon sort est amer!
Ah! Sans amour s’en aller sur la mer!
La blanche creature
Est couchée au cercuil;
Comme dans la nature
Tout me parait en deuil!
La colombe oubliée
Pleure et songe a l’absent.
Mon âme pleure et sent
Qu’elle est déparaillée!
Que mon sort est amer!
Ah! Sans amour s’en aller sur la mer!
Sur moi la nuit immense
S’étend comme un linceul.
Je chante ma romance
Que le ciel entend seul:
Ah! Comme elle était belle
Et comme je l’aimais!
Je n’aimerai jamais
Une femme autant qu’elle…
Que mon sort est amer!
Ah! Sans amour s’en aller sur la mer!

On the lagoons
My beautiful friend is dead;
I will weep forever.
Into the tomb she has carried
my soul and my heart.
To heaven, without waiting for me,
she has returned;
the angel who led her
did not want to take me.
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!
The fair creature
is lying in her coffin;
how everything in nature
seems to me to be in mourning!
The forsaken dove
weeps and dreams of the absent one.
My soul weeps and feels
that it has lost its partner!
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!
Over me the immense night
spreads itself like a shroud.
I sing my romance
which only heaven hears:
Ah! How beautiful she was
and how I loved her!
I will never love
another woman as much as I loved her…
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!

4. l’Absence
Reviens, reviens, ma belle aimée!
Comme une fleur lon du soleil,
La fleur de ma vie est fermée
Loin de ton sourire vermeil!
Entre nos cœurs quelle distance!
Tant d’espace entre nos baisers!
O sort amer! ô dure absence!
O grands désirs inapaisés!
Reviens, reviens…
D’ici làbas que de campagnes,
Que de villes et de hameaux,
Que de vallons et de montagnes,
A lasser le pied des chevaux!
Reviens, reviens…

Return, return, my beloved!
Like a flower far from the sun,
the flower of my life is closed
far from your brilliant smile!
Between our hearts what distance!
What space between our kisses!
O bitter fate! O hard absence!
O great, unappeasable desires!
Return, return…
Between here and there what fields,
what cities and towns,
what valleys and mountains
to weary the feet of the horses!
Return, return…

5. Au Cimitière (Claire de lune)
Connaisez-vous la blanche tombe,
Où flotte avec un son plaintif
L’ombre d’un if?
Sur l’if une pâle colombe
Triste et seule au soleil couchant,
Chante son chant:
Un air maladivement tendre,
A la fois charmant et fatal,
Qui vous fait mal
E qu’on voudrait toujour entendre;
Un air comme en soupire aux ciex
L’ange amoureux.
On dirait que l’âme éveillée
Pleure sous terre à l’unisson
De la chanson,
Et du malheur d’être oubliée
Se plaint dans un roucoulement
Bien doucement.
Sur les ailes de la musique
On sent lentement revenir
Un souvenir.
Une ombre, une forme angélique
Passe dans un rayon trembant
En voile blanc.
Les belles de nuit* demiclose
Jettent leur parfum faible et doux
Autour de vous,
Et la fantôme aux molles poses
Murmure en vous tendant les bras:
Tu reviendras!
Oh! Jamais plus, près de la tombe,
Je n’irai, quand descend le soir
Au manteau noir,
Ecouter la pâle colombe
Chanter sur la pointe de l’if
Son chant plaintif.

At the cemetery (Moonlight)
Do you know the white tomb,
where floats, with a plaintive sound,
the shadow of a yew-tree?
On the yew a pale dove,
sad and alone in the sunset,
sings its song:
A melody morbidly tender,
at once charming and deadly,
which will do you harm
and which one wishes to listen to forever;
a melody like the sighing in heaven
of an angel in love.
One might say that an awakened soul
weeps beneath the earth together
with the song,
and, in sorrow at having been forgotten,
laments by cooing
very sweetly.
On the wings of the music
one slowly feels returning
a memory.
A shadow, an angelic form
passes in a ray of trembling light,
veiled in white.
The half-closed Marvels of Peru*
spread their delicate and sweet perfume
about you,
and the ghost, standing limply,
murmurs, holding her arms out to you:
“You will return!”
Oh! Never again will I go near the tomb
when evening falls
in its black robe,
to listen to the pale dove
singing, on the branch of the yew-tree,
its plaintive song.

6. L’Ile inconnue
Dites, la jeune belle,
Où voulez-vous aller?
La voile enfle son aile,
La brise va souffler.
L’aviron est d’ivoire,
Le pavillon de moire,
Le gouvernail d’or fin;
J’ai pour lest une orange,
Pour voile une aile d’ange,
Pour mousse un séraphin.
Est-ce dans la Baltique?
Dans la mer Pacifique?
Dans l’île de Java?
Où bien est-ce en Norvège,
Cuillir la fleur de neige,
Ou la fleur a’Angsoka?
Dites, dites, où voulez-vous aller?
Menez moi, dit la belle,
A la rive fidèle
Où l’on aime toujours!
Cette rive, ma chère,
On ne la connaît guère
Au pays des amours.
Où voulez-vous allez?
La brise va souffler.

The unknown island
Tell me, pretty young girl,
where do you wish to go?
The sail spreads its wing,
the breeze is beginning to blow.
The oar is of ivory,
the flag of silk,
the rudder of pure gold;
for ballast I have an orange,
for sail the wing of an angel,
for cabin-boy, a seraph.
Tell me…
Is it to the Baltic sea?
To the Pacific ocean?
To the island of Java?
Or is it rather to Norway,
to gather snow-flowers,
or the flowers of Angsoka?
Tell me, tell me, where do you want to go?
“Take me,” says the pretty one,
“to the faithful shore
where people love forever!”
That shore, my dear,
is almost unknown
in the country of love.
Where do you want to go?
The breeze is beginning to blow.