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Béatrice et Bénédict

composer
1862

 
Berlioz had often thought of composing an opera on Much Ado about Nothing. When eventually he decided to do so – for the opening season of the new theatre in the German spa town of Baden-Baden – he deliberately limited his ambitions: the libretto – based closely on the text of the play but written by the composer – removes Don John and his sinister intrigue against Hero altogether and sets only a part of Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy, confining the action almost entirely (in Berlioz’s words) to ‘persuading Beatrice and Benedick that they love each other’. Though still only in his late 50s, Berlioz was in nearly constant pain (from what his doctors called ‘intestinal neuralgia’ but what was probably Crohn’s Disease) and with no illusions about his career in his native France.

The prodigality of ideas and unstoppable energy found in Berlioz’s earlier Italian comedy, Benvenuto Cellini, give way here to an extreme economy and a demonstration of the expressive possibilities in the basic means of music, notably the scale. Writing the work was, he said, ‘a relaxation from The Trojans’, the epic five-act opera he had recently completed, which he knew was his magnum opus but for which there was no prospect of a production. It was symbolic of the state of his career that what would be his last major work was written not for Paris but for a German provincial town.

Yet the music of the work – ‘a caprice written with the point of a needle’, Berlioz called it – has no trace of bitterness and, on the contrary, has wit and grace and lightness of touch. It accepts life as it is. The opera is a divertissement, not a grand statement. It celebrates love not – as in The Trojans – as a devouring, all-consuming passion but as ‘a flame, a will o’ the wisp, coming from no one knows where, gleaming then vanishing from sight, for the distraction of our souls’. Mad, perhaps; but ‘madness is better than stupidity’ – words that all come from the final number of the opera, where Benedick and Beatrice play at hiding their recognition of twin natures.

The ‘Overture’, which was composed last, and which bears the date ‘25 February 1862’ and ‘The End’ (in English), sums up the work. Racy, headlong yet poised, exuberant, ironic, brilliant but touched with warmth of heart, it breathes a single atmosphere while drawing on half a dozen different numbers from the opera: the wide melodic spans of Beatrice’s aria, the magical pianissimo conclusion of the ‘Nocturne’, the triumphant but rather empty tuttis of the conventional Hero’s aria, the long descending and ascending melody of the ‘Wedding March’, the men’s trio’s conspiratorial humour, above all the motif of the final ‘Scherzo-Duettino’, whose nimble triplet rhythm and angular dotted phrase work their way in everywhere and spread their gleeful mirth across the whole texture of the orchestra.

from notes by David Cairns © 2012

L'opéra-comique Béatrice et Bénédict composé par Berlioz d'après Beaucoup de bruit pour rien de Shakespeare fut créé en été 1862, à l'occasion de l'inauguration du théâtre de Baden-Baden, ville thermale à la mode. La composition de l'œuvre s'accompagna de souffrances et de maladies nombreuses; la musique dégage cependant une gaieté exubérante, n'étant voilée de tristesse qu'en de rares endroits. Mêlant une demi-douzaine de motifs tirés de la partition, la brillante ouverture en résume bien le caractère: piquante, taquine, affûtée, comme la bataille en paroles derrière laquelle Béatrice et Bénédict cachent l'attirance qu'ils éprouvent l'un envers l'autre, mais également chaleureuse, parcourue par un esprit délicat et fantasque, comme on peut l'entendre dans la mélodie si expressive de la section lente et dans sa conclusion pianissimo enchanteresse, issue du Nocturne qui referme l'acte I.

C'est cependant le thème initial qui prédomine, un motif étincelant et plein d'entrain. Ses rythmes alertes en triolets et ses phrases pointées anguleuses s'immiscent partout et leurs rires innervent la texture musicale des deux passages allegro. C'est au son de cette musique que Béatrice et Bénédict, à la fin de l'opéra, font ainsi l'éloge de l'amour: «L'amour est un flambeau, l'amour est une flamme, un feu follet qui vient d'on ne sait où, qui brille et disparaît, pour égarer notre âme.»

extrait des notes rédigées par David Cairns © 2000
Français: Claire Delamarche

Die opéra-comique Béatrice et Bénédict, die Berlioz auf der Grundlage von Shakespeares Viel Lärm um nichts schrieb, wurde im Sommer 1862 uraufgeführt, und zwar zur Einweihung des neu erbauten Theaters im eleganten Kurort Baden-Baden. Während ihrer Entstehungszeit war Berlioz oft krank und von Schmerzen geplagt; doch die Musik strahlt überschwengliche Fröhlichkeit aus, nur gelegentlich von einem Hauch von Traurigkeit durchweht. Die brillante Ouvertüre (in der ein halbes Dutzend verschiedener Nummern der Partitur miteinander verwoben werden) charakteririsiert treffend das Gesamtwerk: Sie ist flott, neckisch, flink wie die Wortgefechte, hinter denen Beatrice und Benedikt ihre gegenseitige Zuneigung verbergen, aber auch mit Herzensgüte und einem feinen Sinn furs Phantastische gesegnet, wie in der ausdrucksvollen Melodie des langsameren Abschnitts und ihrem (der Nocturne am Schluss des ersten Akts entnommenen) zauberhaften, pianissimo gehaltenen Ausklang zu hören ist.

Doch es ist das einleitende Thema, eine glitzernde, quecksilbrige Figur, von dem die Ouvertüre dominiert wird. Der behende Triolenrhythmus und die kantige punktierte Phrase mischen sich überall ein und lassen ihr Gelächter in die musikalische Textur der beiden Allegro-Abschnitte eingehen. Dies ist die Musik, zu der Beatrice und Benedikt am Ende der Oper die Liebe feiern als ‘eine Fackel oder Flamme, ein Irrlicht gar, das kommt wer weiß woher, leuchtet auf und dann vergeht es, und unsre Seelen treibt's zur Raserei.’

aus dem Begleittext von David Cairns © 2000
Deutsch: Anne Steeb/Bernd Müller

Recordings

Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Studio Master: CKD400Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Berlioz: Symphonie fantastique
Studio Master: LSO0007Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

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