Hector Berlioz La Damnation De Faust

  • French composer Hector Berlioz followed the ideals of 19th century Romanticism in musical creations such as the Symphonie fantastique and La Damnation de Faust.
  • 4.33 Rating details 12 ratings 2 reviews Several of the most gifted composers of the 19th century created major works based on Goethe's Faust, and Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust is widely considered the greatest of them all. Scored for three solo singers, chorus,.
  • La Damnation de Faust. (English title:The Damnation of Faust) Hector Berlioz. (1803-69) The 'Damnation of Faust, dramatic legend,' as Berlioz calls it, was written in 1846. It is divided into four parts, the first containing three, the second four, the third six, and the fourth five scenes, the last concluding with an epilogue and the apotheosis of Marguerite.
Hector berlioz la damnation de faust pdf

La damnation de Faust (The Damnation of Faust), Op. 24 is a work for four solo voices, full seven-part chorus, large children's chorus and orchestra by the F. Several of the most gifted composers of the 19th century created major works based on Goethe's Faust, and Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust is widely considered the greatest of them all.

John Nelson

Hector berlioz la damnation de faust libretto
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Featured artists:

Joyce DiDonato, Michael Spyres, Gulbenkian Choir, Nicolas Courjal, Alexandre Duhamel, Verónica Silva, Les Petits Chanteurs de Strasbourg - Maîtrise de l’Opéra National du Rhin, Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra

“The most dramatic piece that Berlioz ever wrote,” is how conductor John Nelson describes La Damnation de Faust. The composer designated this thrilling hybrid of oratorio and opera a ‘légende dramatique’. Following in the triumphant footsteps of Les Troyens, also recorded at the Auditorium Erasme

“The most dramatic piece that Berlioz ever wrote,” is how conductor John Nelson describes La Damnation de Faust. The composer designated this thrilling hybrid of oratorio and opera a ‘légende dramatique’. Following in the triumphant footsteps of Les Troyens, also recorded at the Auditorium Erasme in Strasbourg, this performance reunites Nelson and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg with singers Michael Spyres, Joyce DiDonato and Nicolas Courjal.

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Hector Berlioz La Damnation De Faust

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Hector Berlioz was born in south-east France in 1803. At the age of seventeen he was sent to Paris to study medicine, but after a year of medical studies became a pupil of the composer Jean-François Le Sueur. In 1826 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, winning the Prix de Rome four years later. Though Gluck and Spontini were important early influences, it was the discovery of Beethoven in 1828 that was the decisive event in his apprenticeship.

His first fully characteristic large-scale work, the autobiographical Symphonie fantastique, followed in 1830, and the next two decades saw a series of major works: Harold en Italie (1834), Benvenuto Cellini (1838), the Grande Messe des morts (1837), the dramatic symphony Roméo et Juliette (1839), the Symphonie funèbre et triomphale (1840), and Les nuits d’été (1841). Some were well-received, but quite early on he began to supplement his income by becoming a prolific and influential critic.

La damnation de faust opera

The 1840s were largely spent taking his music abroad and establishing a reputation as one of the leading composers and conductors of the day. These years of travel produced much less music, but in 1854 the success of L’enfance du Christ encouraged him to embark on a project long resisted: the composition of an epic opera on the Aeneid which would assuage a lifelong passion and pay homage to two great idols, Virgil and Shakespeare.

Although Béatrice et Bénédict (1860–62), the comic opera after Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, came later, Les Troyens (1856–58) was the culmination of his career. It was also the cause of his final disillusionment and the reason, together with increasing ill-health, why he wrote nothing of consequence in the remaining six years of his life.

Damnation Of Faust

Berlioz’s fascination with Faust began in 1828—the same year as his crucial encounter with the music of Beethoven—when he read Gérard de Nerval’s translation of the first part of Goethe’s drama. The book became for him a bible, and within a few months he had composed Eight Scenes from Faust, his first fully characteristic work. Under the combined impact of Goethe and Beethoven, he also conceived a symphonic composition based on Faust—the germ of what became, soon afterwards, the Symphonie fantastique. Yet it was many years before he finally took up the large-scale setting which must have been present, in principle, from the first (the Eight Scenes was only a collection, a young musician’s immediate response to the play’s songs and ballads, and Faust himself had no part in it). In the meantime, other ideas and activities intervened: Italy and the Italian works of the 1830s—Harold en Italie, Benvenuto Cellini and Roméo et Juliette, the Grande Messe des morts, the Symphonie funèbre, and Les nuits d’été. Then, in the early 1840s, Berlioz went to Germany, visited Goethe’s Weimar, the Elbe valley, and Leipzig, and La damnation de Faust, till then dormant in his imagination, sprang to life.


Hector Berlioz La Damnation De Faust Full

The result was one of his most brilliant scores—a work so varied in colour and atmosphere yet so concise, so sardonic in humour and dazzling in contrast, that we can easily miss the logic that binds it, and the deadly seriousness underlying its brilliance. But Berlioz could not have devised a mere kaleidoscope of picturesque and fabulous scenes: it was too personal to him to be only that. The sufferings of the central character echoed his own. He had been there: the disillusioned idealism, the attachment to an idea of love doomed never to find fulfilment, the wanderings, the thirst, like Byron’s, for sensation, the pantheistic worship of nature, the longing to be united with all existence, the terrible sense of alienation, the self-questioning turning beauty to ashes, the black depressions precipitating from the depths of the psyche, the demon of eternal denial. He knew it all.

The mal de l’isolement that is at the heart of the work went back to the first devastating attack of spleen in the fields of his native La Côte St André as he listened to the distant voices of the Rogation procession—the same chant that the women and children sing at the wayside cross in the ‘Ride to the Abyss’, the last stage of Faust’s path to hell. No less autobiographical, in their nostalgic recall of the days of his boyhood faith, were the words added for Faust in the ‘Easter Hymn’. It was his own experience that he was dramatising. Even if he had not grown used to the unredeemed protagonist of Faust Part 1, Berlioz cannot have felt any inclination to soften his hero’s fate in the light of the radically different Part 2. He had other intentions. There could be no salvation for his Faust: he was much further along the road to ruin than Goethe’s. The adventures of the mind, the continual striving, had lost their savour. He was doomed from the start; Mephistopheles, his shadow—a more Satanic figure than in Goethe—had him in his grasp.

Dramatisation in what sense? The question has often been asked. When, after Berlioz’s death, the work became hugely popular in France its quasi-scenic vividness for long eclipsed the works he wrote for the opera house. But, from the first, it was conceived for the concert hall. As Berlioz himself described it, La damnation de Faust is ‘an opera without decor or costumes’. It is an opera of the mind’s eye performed on an ideal stage of the imagination; we see it more vividly than any visual medium could depict it, except the cinema (which it at times anticipates). As John Warrack has said, ‘the pace is different, the arena impalpable, the dramatic logic not that of the theatre but of an imagination able to free itself from physical surroundings and to course with the composer in a flash of thought from scene to scene or dwell upon a held mood of hilarity or tenderness or terror.'

In its fluidity and swift succession of moods, in the abruptness of its transitions from light to dark, from earthy brutality to the most translucent beauty, in its sense of heightened reality, the work has the character of a dream. The details leap out at us: the din and reek of Auerbach’s cellar and the straddled drinkers bawling through the smoke, the silence of Faust’s study at dead of night, the lulling airs of the Elbe valley, the column of soldiers and students marching into the distance on its way to the ancient town where Marguerite lives, the stillness of her room. Such things are more than picturesque background: they are the drama itself, projections of the imaginings of its actors. The stealthy fugato ‘burrowing like a mole’ in the dim light of Faust’s study, then petering out, is eloquent not only of the solitude of the small hours but of the weariness of a frustrated soul, the restlessness of an unsatisfied mind. When Marguerite enters her room, still oppressed by her vision of Faust, the flute melody, at once languorous and tense, evokes both physical atmosphere and psychological state. The recall of the soldiers’ and students’ songs, with all their lewd suggestiveness, breaking in on her Romance, is an epitome of her fate, like the images of sexuality and death in the account of Ophelia’s end in Hamlet.

Berlioz conveys his meaning with an economy and brevity unique in the music of his time, his own included. The deceitfulness of the sylphs’ dance round the sleeping Faust is registered by the almost imperceptible pianissimo of the strings’ pedal note, reminding us that Mephistopheles controls the threads. In the opening scene the flattened sixth (B flat in the key of D) reveals the tiny worm of consciousness eating away Faust’s imagined felicity from within. The hunting horns, which are the sole accompaniment to the scene of Faust’s final subjugation, seem at first merely an ironic juxtaposition—an energetic activity indifferent to the drama being enacted before us—until we realise that the quarry the huntsmen are pursuing is Faust.

Instrumental timbre is as integral to the characterisation as are melody, harmony, and rhythm. Faust the austere sensualist and insatiable dreamer has his grave string chords, his modally flavoured harmonies, his proudly arching phrases, Marguerite her demure flutes and clarinets, her naively angular, aspiring themes, her passionate heartbeat, Mephistopheles his diminished chords, his dry pizzicato, and his sneering trombones eloquent of more than human power.

In three rending chords and a flash of cymbals and piccolo, Mephistopheles stands before us. Yet he is no mere demon king of pantomime, for all that he displays an almost human weakness for the histrionic. He is a grand seigneur, a master spirit. There is evil behind his lightest mockery and, behind that, a hint of the regret of the fallen angel, gripped by the pain of immortal fires. His caressing lullaby, ‘Voici des roses’, is the voice of the supernatural being with dominion over nature; the tenderness of the melody suggests the perverse affection of the tormentor for his victim, even while it is contradicted by the softly snarling brass. To create his fiend the composer sometimes undermines the conventional order of music. In the ‘Ride to the Abyss’ the wailing oboe tune is dragged through a gyration of keys, and the disjunct metrical patterns pile up as the riders approach their destination. And in the scene where Mephistopheles summons the Will-o’-the-Wisps—where for the first time we see the devil plain, not playing a part—the unison woodwind and horns sound eight of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale: for Goethe’s ‘Spirit of Eternal Negation,’ all clear sense of key is suspended.

In such ways the meaning of La damnation de Faust is expressed. The philosophy is not stated but, rather, absorbed and embodied in the language of music. It is central to the work’s purpose that each part, for Faust, begins in aspiration and ends in dust. The ‘Hungarian March’ is part of that scheme; played at Berlioz’s moderate and unvarying tempo, it acquires the relentless momentum of a great war machine, the disciplined frenzy of regimented man in which Faust the Romantic individualist can have no part. The same terrible anonymity—in every sense soul-destroying—finally engulfs him in ‘Pandemonium’, where Berlioz has borrowed from Swedenborg the idea of a ‘language of the damned’, a nightmarish babel of syllables.

Hector Berlioz La Damnation De Faust Youtube

The philosophic core of the work is Faust’s Invocation, ‘Nature immense’ (Scene 16), which precedes his fall, and the contrast between it and that other scene of Faust’s communion with nature, the pastoral symphony which opens the work (a contrast pointed by the identical musical phrase and pitch of the first words in both movements). In the earlier scene there was still hope, or the illusion of it: for a moment he could believe his ennui cured. In the ‘Invocation’ we see him, near his end, with another nature, of untamed energy and vast indifference. Only amid the grandeur of the forests, the howling winds, the booming cataracts and the cold gleam of the stars can he find an echo of his solitary self. This was familiar Romantic sentiment, but it prompted the composer to a timeless statement of human isolation. The final words, flung into space, give the climax a superb defiance. Then unison strings play a long, winding melodic line which strains upward only to fall back on itself in a modal close of desolate inconclusiveness.

The appearance of Mephistopheles at that instant is logical and inevitable, as was his first apparition at the moment of Faust’s sentimental recovery of faith and his abrupt intrusion upon his lovemaking. To quote John Warrack, it is Faust’s ‘own devouring solitude that precipitates the characters and events of La damnation, so that these come to seem not a string of lurid or touching vignettes but a dramatisation of the soul’s condition, a nightmare progress from frustration at the failure of learning, of easy companionship, of God, of nature, of love, into an ever more terrible isolation, whipped by the devil who cannot be escaped because he is within, until journey’s end is reached in the total dullness, the numbing of all sensation and the exclusion from any hope, that is hell’. With all its teeming movement, its wit and zest for life, the subject of the work is loneliness: the loneliness of Marguerite, whose awakened passions are deprived of their object, the loneliness of Mephistopheles, the being who cannot love or die, the loneliness of Faust, whose too hotly questing soul gets the dusty answer of the universe, and in whom Berlioz, out of his own experiences, traced the defeat of the Romantic dream.

David Cairns © 2019