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The dedication of this song ‘A Mademoiselle Christine Nilsson’ tells us a great deal. This Swedish soprano was one of the most virtuosic singers of the age and had created the role of Ophelia in Thomas’s Hamlet (1868) as well as taking part in early performances of Faust. Bizet had written the extravagantly ornamented role of Catherine for Nilsson in La jolie fille de Perth, and he has been much criticized for pandering to her desire to show off. Nilsson obviously required music in which she could display the celebrated flexibility of her voice and her range of two-and-a-half octaves. Tarentelle, no doubt written for one of her many concert tours, proves that Bizet positively enjoyed writing for a singer with a death-defying technique: it is far too good a song to be written off as a concession to vocal vanity. Noske notes how harmonically daring the work is with its adventurous use of sophisticated harmonic devices and risqué dissonances: besides upper and lower pedals, Bizet also use the pedal in an intermediate voice – in the right hand of the piano part. The poem by Pailleron is contained within any numbers of ‘Tra la las’ – a note-spinning device familiar from Guitare. The middle section of the song in the major key (‘Ma belle où voyez-vous la trace, La trace de l’amant ailé?’) and the Andantino in the subdominant (‘Le flot est rapide et changeant’ – a superbly appropriate piece of water music with a tugging ebb and flow) strike a genuinely touching and poetic note. The composer then embarks on a further round of tongue-in-cheek pyrotechnics. This song, painfully embarrassing in the wrong hands and larynx, is breathtaking in the right ones. As an example of Bizet’s energetic insouciance, that special quality which marks him out as a song composer more daring than most of his contemporaries, it could hardly be bettered.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998

La dédicace de cette chanson «À Mademoiselle Christine Nilsson» nous apprend presque tout ce que nous devons savoir. Cette soprano suédoise fut l’une des chanteuses les plus virtuoses de l’époque, créant le rôle d’Ophelia dans l’Hamlet de Thomas (1868) et participant aux premières exécutions de Faust. Dans La jolie fille de Perth, Bizet avait écrit à son intention le rôle de Catherine, ornementé jusqu’à l’extravagance, et s’était vu vivement critiqué pour avoir flagorné le désir d’exhibition de l’interprète. De toute évidence, Nilsson exigea une musique lui permettant d’exposer la célèbre flexibilité de sa voix et son ambitus de deux octaves et demie. Tarentelle, sans nul doute écrite pour une de ses nombreuses tournées de concerts, prouve que Bizet aima incontestablement composer pour une chanteuse douée d’une technique défiant la mort. La section centrale, dans la sous-dominante («Le flot est rapide et changeant»), est une pièce de musique aquatique superbement appropriée, avec un flux et un reflux émouvant, qui donne une note authentiquement touchante et poétique. Difficile de trouver meilleur exemple de l’insouciance de Bizet en matière d’énergie – qualité particulière qui fait de lui un compositeur plus hardi que ses contemporains.

extrait des notes rédigées par Graham Johnson © 1998
Français: Hypérion


Bizet: Songs
CDA66976Archive Service


Track 20 on CDA66976 [3'53] Archive Service

Track-specific metadata for CDA66976 track 20

Recording date
7 May 1997
Recording venue
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Bizet: Songs (CDA66976)
    Disc 1 Track 20
    Release date: February 1998
    Deletion date: January 2013
    Archive Service
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