September 20. 2013.
R.Strauss: Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme Suite & An Evening with Renée Fleming
Jean-Baptiste Molière (1622-1673) France’s greatest dramatist was, during his life, a celebrated actor-manager. His real name was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, the son of respectable Parisian upholsterers. In 1643, with Madeleine Béjart, he founded the Illustre Théâtre, which later became the Comédie Française – to this day France’s national theatre company – eventually securing the patronage of King Louis XIV. Louis commissioned Molière’s company to put on plays for himself and his courtiers at the newly built Palace of Versailles, and also allowed them to use the former royal palace in Paris as a theatre. The king paid for Court productions at Versailles, and the company could then take them on to the Palais Royal to play to the Parisians, this popular audience providing useful additional income.
Under the King’s protection, Molière satirised powerful establishment groups with impunity, including the clergy. He ridiculed their bigotry and imposture, until even Louis had difficulty defending him against the wrath of the Catholic Church.
Towards the end of his career, he was appointed Court Dramatist, in recognition of Louis’s affection and admiration for him. The king had also conceived a passion for dance and music, and he appointed Molière’s friend, the composer Jean-Baptiste Lully, as Court Composer. ‘Les deux Jean-Baptistes’, as they became known, collaborated on many entertainments for the King, Molière inventing an entirely new genre for him – the comedie-ballet – of which Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme remains the greatest example.
Molière was given the commission only two weeks before the performance date. He was to provide some dramatic incident in support of a series of elaborate dance sequences by Lully.
Instead, he turned the whole thing into a full-length play, perfectly integrating the dancing into the action throughout. It is a tribute to his genius that, 300 years later, the play is still performed, but the dance is incidental (and, indeed, often eliminated altogether.)
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1639-1687) Born, in Florence, Giovanni Battista Lulli, he moved to France and became naturalised in 1661.He was made Court Composer to Louis XIV in 1653, and was director of the Paris Opera for the last 15 years of his life. He was the founder of French opera, forsaking the Italian method of separate recitative and aria for a dramatic consolidation of the two.
While conducting with a rather long baton one day, he injured his foot so badly that a cancerous growth appeared, killing him within three months.
Richard Georg Strauss (1864 – 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, which include Der Rosenkavalier and Salome; his lieder, especially his Four Last Songs; and his tone poems and other orchestral works, such as Death and Transfiguration, Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks, Also sprach Zarathustra, An Alpine Symphony, and Metamorphosen. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria.
Strauss, along with Gustav Mahler, represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.
Hugo Laurenz August Hofmann von Hofmannsthal (1874-1929) was an Austrian novelist, librettist, poet, dramatist, narrator, and essayist.In 1900, Hofmannsthal met the composer Richard Strauss for the first time. He later wrote libretti for several of his operas, including Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911) with Harry von Kessler, Ariadne auf Naxos (1912, rev. 1916), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Die ägyptische Helena (1927), and Arabella (1933).
In 1912 he adapted the 15th century English morality play Everyman as Jedermann, and Jean Sibelius (amongst others) wrote incidental music for it. The play later became a staple at the Salzburg Festival.
Le bourgeois gentilhomme, Op. 60, is an orchestral suite written by Richard Strauss between 1911 and 1917. The original idea of Hugo von Hofmannsthal was to revive Molière’s 1670 play Le Bourgeois gentilhomme, simplify the plot and introduce a commedia dell’arte troupe, add some incidental music and conclude matters with a one-act opera Ariadne auf Naxos.
The combination of play and opera was premiered in Stuttgart on 25 October 1912, but it was immediately apparent that it was too long and too expensive to mount, and that also much of the potential audience for the play was uninterested in the opera, and vice-versa. Strauss and Hoffmannsthal set to work on separating the two works. A prologue was written for the opera to explain the presence of the comedians and the opera was premiered in its revised form independent of the play in 1916. The play was also revised, Hoffmansthal replacing the opera with an ending closer to Molière’s original and Strauss providing additional incidental music in 1917. Strauss created an orchestral suite from most of the music which was published in 1917. The premiere of the orchestral suite took place in Vienna on 31 January 1920, under the baton of the composer.
The piece takes about a half hour to perform. There are 9 parts:
Der Fechtmeister (The Fencing Master)
Auftritt und Tanz der Schneider (Entry and Dance of the Tailors)
Das Menuett des Lully (Lully’s Minuet)
Auftritt des Cléonte (Entry of Cléonte) (after Lully)
Das Diner (The Dinner)
Two additional movements written for the 1917 version of the play, a ballet for sylphs and one for pretend-Turks, were omitted from the suite.
The music is unusual among the works of Strauss in that it is neo-classical. Strauss gave it a distinct Baroque flavor. He based parts 5-7 on airs by Jean-Baptiste Lully who provided the music for Molière’s original 17th-century play.
One of the most beloved and celebrated musical ambassadors of our time, soprano Renée Fleming captivates audiences with her sumptuous voice, consummate artistry, and compelling stage presence. At a White House ceremony in July of this year, the President awarded Ms. Fleming the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest honor for an individual artist. Known as “the people’s diva” and winner of the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocal Solo, she continues to grace the world’s greatest opera stages and concert halls, now extending her reach to include other musical forms and media. Over the past few seasons, Ms. Fleming has hosted a wide variety of television and radio broadcasts, including the Metropolitan Opera’s Live in HD series for movie theaters and television, and Live From Lincoln Center on PBS.
A few samples of her many great performances: Casta Diva from Bellini’s Norma, Song to the Moon from Dvorak’s Rusalka, Sempre Libera from Verdi’s La Traviata and O Mio Babbino Caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
Concert at the NAC on September 24 2013.