PHILHARMONICA. International Music JournalReference:
Oratorio-trilogy of Hector Berlioz “The Childhood of Christ” – the concept of eternity of Christian love
Abstract.The subject of research in this article is the vocal-symphonic concept of the oratorio-trilogy by Hector Berlioz “The Childhood of Christ” Op. 25, which is being viewed as a prime example of creative thought of that era (middle of XIX century), and being examined in form of analysis of musical composition, musical dramaturgy, fundamental plots and characters of Christianity, as well as emotional-psychological side of the musical content. Based on examination of the letters and Mémoires of Hector Berlioz the article presents a hypothesis on the genesis of the creative concept of the oeuvre, and offers facts from the history of its creation and performance. The plot motifs of Berlioz’s poetic libretto presented as units of the overall structure of the creative text. The author analyzes the particular aspects of the oratorio-theatrical embodiment of the space-time spiritual concept of eternity of Christian love, examines the fusion of spiritual and secular elements within the semantics of the creative text, gives attention to the specificity of the composition, musical dramaturgy, principles of polyphonic thought of the composer, synthesis of genre elements (oratorio, symphony, mystery play, and others), and reveals the correlation between Berlioz’s innovative musical thinking and the creative practice of the psychological realism within the French art and literature of 1850’s. Research methodology:- Musical-philosophical hermeneutical reconstruction of the process of structuring the creative idea and the aspects of its realization within the programmatic vocal-symphonic concept of the oratorio-trilogy.- Analysis pertaining to the musical philosophy of the score of “The Childhood of Christ” as a creative canon, which reflected the phenomenon of the topology of the path- Analysis of the musical and aesthetical aspects of the psychological realism within intonation-dramaturgical development of the work.Scientific novelty of the research consists in:- Discovery of Berlioz’s individual approach towards the critical perception of Christianity in France during 1850’s- Analytical justification of the position that composer’s interpretation of the Christian spiritual values, including the eternity of Christian love, presented in the oratorio-trilogy of “The Childhood of Christ” is relevant in the XXI century- Determination of the musical and aesthetical phenomenon of realistic vocal intonation, which is in a state of development of psychological and critical realism in the French art and literature of 1850’s- Musical and philosophical understanding of the functionality of spiritual and semantical concepts of the Christian “storge” and Christian “agape” in the musical dramaturgy of these parts of the work: “Herod’s Dream”, “Flight into Egypt”, and “The Arrival at Sais”.Main conclusions:1. The specificity of composer’s individual understanding of the psychological mystery of communication between human soul and God is reflected in the deep structure of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” – the concept of eternity of Christian love2. The perception on this concept is relevant for the modern Christian world, and prompts us to change our attitude towards the life and creative heritage of Berlioz3. “The Childhood of Christ” is a great example for the French composers of the XIX-XX centuries, who created oratorio-theatrical works and significant forms of vocal-symphonic music based on the synthesis of arts and genres; among them are works by Charles Gounod, Jules Massenet, César Franck, Claude Debussy, Vincent d'Indy, Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc, and Olivier Messiaen.
Keywords: Berlioz, oratorio-trilogy, vocal-symphonic concept, Childhood of Christ, Christian love, genre synthesis, agape, storge, Narrator, musical dramaturgy
Article was received:03-12-2015
“…there is but one way of being new, and that is to be true; there is only one way of being young, and that is to be eternal.”
Paul Claudel. [1, p.60].
“For Christianity, the greatest revelation is the Christ himself, Whose personality directly reveals the absolute life, as well as the absolute truth of this life, as if its conceptual formula, logos (See John 14:6 “I am… the life”).”
S. Averintsev. [2, p. 337-338].
Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) has worked in the area of spiritual music throughout the period of 1825-1861. Over the 36 year period of a creative evolution the composer has written more than ten works in different genres. The spiritual oeuvres of Berlioz are an impressive artistic phenomenon, a creative embodiment of high moral truths responsible for giving Christianity its longevity. They are the Beatitudes, salvation of the soul, and eternity of Christian love. Among the greatest phenomena of musical culture are: “Requiem” Op. 5 for mixed choir and orchestra (1837); dramatic legend of “The Damnation of Faust” Op. 24, oratorio for soloists, choir, and orchestra (1845-1846); “Te Deum” Op. 22 for soloists, 3 choirs, and organ (1849); oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” Op. 25 (1854) of Hector Berlioz.
From the middle of 1840’s the faith as the core principle of Christianity was under criticism in the French cultural thought. The crisis of faith was evident for the contemporaries of the Christian teachings of François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), followers of which were the young Berlioz and the “tester of culture” writer Gérard de Nerval (1808-1855), who paid a special attention to faith. The absence of faith was accompanied by the spiritual search of “generation of 1848”, among which were the thinker Ernest Renan and philosopher of art Hippolyte Taine, a child of a Protestant family. The ideology of science, promoted by Renan and Taine, has defined the nature of humanitarian knowledge and philosophy of art of the members of the French intelligentsia of 1850’s and 1860’s.
A writer, a reformer of humanitarian sciences, and a historian of ancient languages and religions Ernest Renan (1823-1892) had experienced a spiritual revolution in the second half of the 1840’s. Seeking new possibilities for promoting Christianity in France, Renan cried out: “Who can found a rational and critical Christianity?” [3, p. 35]. The author of a future book “Life of Jesus” stated: “I was a Christian, and I have sworn always to be one <…> should not be an orthodox. What is needed is pure Christianity” [3, p. 32, 33]. Historicism, determinism, and scientism are what distinguish the direction of thoughts on art of the historian-philosopher Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893).
Having dedicated the concept of a dramatic legend “The Damnation of Faust” to the problem of losing faith, Berlioz clearly saw the renewal of the religio-aesthetic canons in the spiritual life of his contemporaries as a trend that was connected with the crisis of faith. The said trend has influenced the evolution of the genres of the French opera and oratorio, which reflected the ideas of redemption, spiritual transformation, compassion to humans, turning to God, and salvation of the soul. With the emergence of the oratorio-trilogy of Berlioz “The Childhood of Christ” in the cultural consciousness of the “generation of 1848” was established a new understanding of eternity of the Christian love – a truth, portrayed in this oeuvre in form of a necessary component of the spiritual life of a modern human.
The musical material for the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”, performed in many countries during Christmas holidays, contains characteristics stylistically similar to those of French folk songs. A prominent scholar Julien Tiersot compared “The Childhood of Christ” with noël (Christmas carols), scaled to a large work of art [4, p. 55]. A researcher L. Guichard discovered the similarity in the musical themes from Berlioz’s “The Childhood of Christ” (Overture to part II, and beginning of part III) with noël of Provençal musician and choir-master at St. Peter's church in Avignon Nicolas Saboly (1614-1675) [4, p. 56]. A researcher A. A. Khokhlovkina points to a “simplistic, somewhat archaistic” character of the melodic phrases of the choir of Ishmaelites from part III of the oratorio-trilogy [5, p. 406].
When Berlioz worked on the oratorio-trilogy, realism was the defining artistic movement in the French literature and visual arts, reaching its peak during 1830’s and 1840’s. Among writers-realists – coryphaei of the “romantic” XIX century – Berlioz admired the great masters of French prose Honoré de Balzac, who belonged to founders of the critical realism of 1830’s and 1840’s, and Gustave Flaubert, who developed the new features of French literary realism of 1850’s and 1860’s [6, p. 344-349]. The letters of Berlioz to Balzac and Flaubert express piety of the composer towards these great French writers; for example, we know of a letter full of sincere enthusiasm from Berlioz to Balzac dated 06.12.1850 [7, p. 196-197]. The author of “The Childhood of Christ” was praising the novel “Salammbô” of Gustave Flaubert – a prominent representative of psychological realism. In his letter to Flaubert date 11.04.1862 Berlioz exclaimed: “Such style! Such archeological knowledge! <…> Let me clasp your powerful hand and sign myself you devoted admirer”. [8, p. 180].
Elements of psychological realism present in the creative concept of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” were situated in the flow of creative practice of realism, which was exerting influence upon many romanticists. The aesthetics of realism is tied to the formation of the style of French lyrical opera – a new genre, the birth of which was witnessed by Berlioz. On March 29, 1859 Berlioz wrote an extended review on the first production (March 19, 1859) of the 5-act lyrical opera of Charles Gounod “Faust” in the theatre of lyrical opera. In the characteristics of this opera masterpiece Berlioz displayed a realistic depth of reasoning [9, p. 141-150]. It is likely that Parisians having read Berlioz’s article about Gounod’s opera in «Journal des Débats», did not notice that the Berlioz-critic dedicated an objective analysis to a work that was written on the same topic as the unsuccessful in Paris dramatic legend of “The Damnation of Faust” of Berlioz-composer. He gave the same positive review to the lyrical opera of the young Georges Bizet (1863) “The Pearl Fishers” [9, p. 154-156].
On the source of the creative concept of “The Childhood of Christ”
In the Mémoires, (Chapter II) Berlioz wrote about the literary upbringing that he received from his father Louis Berlioz – a physician with love for classical literature. In 1809 Louis Berlioz placed the six year old son into theological school to study Latin, but two years later his father decided to personally educate his son, and took upon himself the responsibility to teach the languages, literature, geography, and music. As homework, the future composer had to learn “by heart every day a few lines of Horace and Virgil”. Berlioz recalled the painful experience of memorizing the Latin hexameters. [10, p. 28-29].
Over time, Virgil’s poetry found a passionate response in the heart of the young student, and “ignited [his] imagination”. [10, p. 30]. For Berlioz, Virgil’s “The Aeneid” has forever remained a monument to ancient epos, unsurpassed in its depth and greatness. The book VI of the pagan poet Virgil (70-19 BC) contains lyrics: “…everything is fed within by Spirit, and a Mind … and move the entire world…”, that have gained acceptance among Christian thinkers and theologians during medieval times. [11, p. 154]. A theologian, writer, and a poet Pierre Abélard (1079-1142) wrote that Virgil “places the world-soul above all other creatures”. [11, p. 357]. We can suppose that the above verses 726-727 from the book VI of “The Aeneid” served as a model for Berlioz, who included these words into the Narrator’s part (Epilogue of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”): “O my soul, what does it remain for you to do but to break your pride…”. Thus, it is possible that the composer has expressed his thought on the psychological mystery play of communication between the soul and God, expanded in the process of the vocal symphony development of the oeuvre.
In his later works, “The Aeneid” has inspired Berlioz to write the opera dilogy “Les Troyens” (1855-1859). But for the educated literature enthusiast Louis Berlioz, Virgil was not just the creator of “The Aeneid” – a classical example of the Roman culture. Virgil was an author of an idyllic sequence consisting of ten works of the “Bucolics”, as well as the didactic poem about farming “Georgics”.
Studying the sequence of “Bucolics” or “pastoral poems” (later renamed “Eclogues”, or “select poems”) written in hexameters, is likely to have been a part of the educational program followed by Louis Berlioz. The father was able to explain to the future composer the path in which Virgil followed the Greek poet Theocritus, the author of the “Idylls”. In the practice of analyzing texts, mentioned by Berlioz in the Mémoires, the physician Louis Berlioz must have acquainted his son the provident images of the famous 4th Eclogue, in which Virgil included description of the new age (“Kingdom of Saturn”), when the “Virgin Astraea will return to us”. [12, p. 71]. This coming age will be a blessed one, because a miraculous child will be born: “He shall receive the life of gods… reign over a world at peace”. [12, p. 71]. The birth of the child, as Virgil claimed, will change the fate of the entire world. Could this be a prophecy of Jesus Christ? During the medieval era, when by S. Averintsev’s definition “for Christianity the greatest revelation is the Christ Himself”, Virgil was revered as a Saint. [13, p. 121].
The main hero of “The Aeneid” (Aeneas) characterized Virgil as pious . The scholar of early Christian literature Professor Remo Cacitti notes that the image of Aeneas reflects a programmed overlay of religion, civilization, and culture, which allowed the researcher to conclude that: “The new religion [Christianity – V. A. ] will inherit this template”. [14, p. 268]. Virgil’s image of the miraculous child could be imprinted on the creative conscience of the young Hector Berlioz; the same image has later influenced the composer to create the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”.
From the history of creation of the Berlioz’s oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”
The oratorio-trilogy has grown out of a “Shepherd’s Chorus” accompanied by orchestra, written by Berlioz in 1840 on his own poetic text. In 1850 he created “The repose of the Holy Family”, premiering in London in 1853; at the same time the Overture, “Shepherd’s Chorus”, and “The repose of the Holy Family” have comprised a part of “The Flight into Egypt”. La fuite en Egypte has premiered on December 18, 1853 as a fragment of “ancient mystery play” in the concert hall of Sainte-Cecile in Paris.
After “The Flight into Egypt” – the future middle part of the oratorio-trilogy – Berlioz wrote “The Arrival at Sais”, the part III, completed by the Epilogue. The last to me written was the part I – “Herod’s Dream”. The unusual order of creating the separate parts left a mark in the compositional aspect of the complete creative concept: the Overture – the intrinsic semantic and structural component of part II – represents a one of a kind instrumental-symphonic chapter of the oratorio-trilogy; its ends are opened with the vocal symphonic episodes with the solo of the Narrator.
The history of creating the oeuvre is reflected in the letters and Mémoires of Berlioz. The correspondence between Berlioz and Franz Liszt, Théophile Gautier, Julius Kistner, Joseph Joachim, Bernhard von Bülow, Alfred de Vigny, Auguste Morel, James Davidson, Carolyne zu Sayn-Wittgenstein, his sister Adèle, Toussaint Bennet, Ferdinand David preserved the facts from the history of creation of the oratorio-trilogy over the period of 1852-1854; the letters and Mémoires of the composer expressed the atmosphere of tense work over the musical text, dramaturgy, and the creative concept of the oeuvre.
On April 12, 1852 the composer wrote to F. Liszt about “The Shepherd’s Farewell” and other fragments of the “mystery play” (“The Flight into Egypt”), the score of which was purchased by the founder of a musical production firm in Paris Charles S. Richault [7, p. 213]. In the aforementioned letter Berlioz apprised Liszt of a “small prank” of Parisians, consisting in the fact that Berlioz declared the author of the fragment of the mystery play “The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family” was the Kapellmeister of the Sainte-Chapelle, a composer of the XVIII century Pierre Ducré who never existed.
At the request of the renowned French writer Théophile Gautier, who was preparing a feuilleton about the concert premiere of “The Childhood of Christ”, Berlioz wrote: “mystery play in antique style <…> currently consists of three parts: Overture, “The Shepherds’ Farewell to the Holy Family”, and “The Repose of the Holy Family”. [8, p. 37]. The composer stated that “The Repose of the Holy Family” was not only “sung (and encored) by Gardoni in London, at the Philharmonic Society, but also in <…> Frankfurt, Braunschweig, Hannover, Bretagne, and finally Leipzig, where “The Flight into Egypt” was executed in its entirety for the first time, and, last of all, at the concert of Sainte-Cecile [in Paris], where the choruses certainly did not approach the superb German choruses, but where the performance nonetheless was fine and faithful”. [8, p. 37].
The grand premiere of the “Shepherd’s Chorus in Paris was held in two concerts of the New Philharmonic Society. “The chorus found great success among those who honor me by hating me” – wrote Berlioz, who was using the mystification in an attempting to express his discontent with the behavior of Parisian criticism and the ignorant part of the public that constantly rejected his work that was recognized as masterpieces in other countries. The astonishing success of the “music of the old Ducré” in Paris has prompted Berlioz just a few days later to announce that the “Shepherd’s Chorus” was his work. [8, p. 37]. Thus, Berlioz’s prank became a form of composer’s response to the narrow-mindedness of the Parisians, who were treating his work in a prejudiced manner.
Performance of the “The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family” heralded the first true success of Berlioz’s music in Paris. The composer recounts in his Mémoires: “How its simple melody was praised! How many said: Berlioz could never have written a thing like that!” [10, p. 745]. Comparing the exciting reception of this play with the indifference of Parisians to the premiere of the dramatic legend of “The Damnation of Faust” (1845-1846) and the music of his other oeuvres, the composer notes that the triumph of 1853 contained a hint of “disrespect” towards the “older sisters” of “The Flight into Egypt” [8, p. 74].
Could the reason for such drastic change in the public’s perception of his work be the fact that the composer changed his style? The pages of the Mémoires contain the reasoning of Berlioz on the character of his work: “In that work many people imagined that they could detect a radical change in my style and manner. This opinion is entirely without foundation. The subject naturally lent itself to a gentle and simple style of music, and for that reason alone was more in accordance with their taste and intelligence. Time would probably have developed these qualities, but I should have written L’Enfance du Christ in the same style twenty years ago”. [10, p. 734, 735].
At the beginning of 1854 Berlioz continued to work on the “little oratorio”: “It will be a lot more significant than the “Flight”” – he writes to Liszt about the scale of his concept for the future part III, “The Arrival at Sais”. [8, p. 42]. The trip to Germany in the winter of 1854 interrupted the work until the spring. In April of the same year, Berlioz informed the professor of the Leipziger Konservatorium Ferdinand David: “I am finishing the orchestration of the second oratorio, The Arrival at Sais , which is the sequel to The Flight into Egypt ”. [8, p. 51].
In Germany Berlioz made attempts to publish the score, clavier and choral parts of “The Flight into Egypt” in German language, since German text of the Parisian version he considered to be unfit for a successful performance of it in this country. To Berlioz’s disappointment, accomplishing this task has proven to be more difficult than he hoped. In his letter to Liszt he mentioned the unacceptable mistakes in two prosodies, made by the Leipzig publisher Julius Kistner. [8, p. 52]. With the request to translate to German the part III of the oratorio-trilogy Berlioz wrote to the German poet, interpreter, composer, and a music critic Peter Cornelius: “It is three times more important than The Flight into Egypt , and is more difficult to coordinate with music”. [8, p. 53].
In April of 1854 the work on the oratorio-trilogy has entered the last phase: Berlioz notified Liszt of his intent to create a “…a third part to this little Biblical trilogy <…> which will actually be the first.” [8, p. 53]. He was talking about the future part I (“Herod’s Dream”).
Following the advice of the English writer and musical critic Henry F. Chorley, Berlioz planned to include a part into the oratorio trilogy that would be dedicated to the topic of “massacre of the newborns”; later the composer rejected this title deeming it non-musical, and changed it to “Herod’s Dream”. With the help of a musical publisher Thomas Frederick Beale, one of the founders of the New Philharmonic Society in London, Berlioz hoped to publish the entire oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” in English.
Busy life full of organizational work, concerts, and practice, interfered with the process of creation of this oeuvre. In the spring of 1854 Germany hosted triumphal performances of the dramatic legend “The Damnation of Faust”, dramatic symphony for soloists, choir, and orchestra “Romeo and Juliet” Op. 17 (1839), “The Flight into Egypt”, two overtures for the opera “Benvenuto Cellini” Op. 23 (1834-1837). The second overture to the opera “Benvenuto Cellini” (1844) is titled “Roman Carnival”. After his return to Paris in July of 1854 Berlioz wrote the “Imperial Cantata” for two choirs and a symphonic orchestra with 1,200 musicians (for the birthday of Emperor Napoleon III); at the same time the plans were to perform the “Te Deum” at the Church of Saint-Eustache.
On July 28, 1954 Berlioz wrote to Liszt: “Yesterday I finished Herod’s Dream , the first part of my sacred Trilogy <…> I have done much work after returning from Dresden”. [8, p. 62, 63]. By the end of summer the oratorio-trilogy represented, as Berlioz wrote to Liszt and Bülow, a “work consisting of sixteen movements, lasting an hour and a half, including the intervals”. [8, p. 63]. Berlioz was counting on the opportunity to perform the oratorio-trilogy in the concerts of sacred music, which were taking place during fasting, when the theatres were closed; the author was quite content with the fairly short length of his composition: “it is not that tiring, compared to <…> the rigmaroles that we had to endure for four hours in a row”. [8, p. 63]. In December of 1854, mentioning another successful performance of the oratorio-trilogy in Paris, Berlioz was already using the title “The Childhood of Christ” [8, p. 74-75].
A consistent success that accompanied the performances of this work has brought great joy to the composer: “The second performance of my work was even greater than the first – a tremendous effect, unlike any other. There were tears, and applause to the point that we could not finish some parts. In the scene The Repose of the Holy Family the cries of encore! have covered the ending <…> even my singers were crying” – wrote Berlioz to his sister Adèle. [8, p. 79].
Performance of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” was receiving positive reviews from the critics, and admiring responses from the performing musicians, which exceeded all possible expectations of Berlioz. The effect of the music upon majority of the public was astounding. The people of Wrocław, Baden, Strasbourg, Dresden, and Leipzig could not stop applauding “The Childhood of Christ”… The public was ready to burst in tears time, and time again; the singers-soloists in various countries memorized their parts, and spending the required amount of time in rehearsals with the orchestra, soloists, and the choir, the composer was achieving an outstanding quality of the sound. [8, p. 185, 187, 188]. In January of 1855 the author of “The Childhood of Christ” has presented the score and the clavier of the oratorio-trilogy to his close friend – a French pianist Toussaint Bennet. In April of 1863 Berlioz wrote: “So many things have happened these last twenty years that I have the impertinence to call progressive! My music is being performed almost everywhere”. [8, p. 186].
Trips to various concert halls of Europe for the premieres, organizing rehearsals, preparation of the score by parts and as a whole for publishing in German and English languages – all of these components of the creative work required the author to spend tremendous amounts of energy. The success of “The Childhood of Christ” was the result of a combination of a genius gift, highest professional mastery, and inspired labor. Berlioz wrote these words in his Mémoires on the successful journey of “The Childhood of Christ”: “I am certain to be able to have this work [l’Enfance du Christ] performed easily and frequently in Germany <…> the musicians show for me an understanding that grows by the day. Those from Leipzig, Dresden, Hanover, Brunswick, Weimar, Karlsruhe, and Frankfurt have lavished on me marks of friendship <…> On the public also, the intendants of the royal theatres and ducal orchestras, and most of the ruling princes, I can bestow nothing but the highest praise”. [10, p. 730].
In the middle of the XX century a renowned composer and musical writer Arthur Honegger noticed the outdated canon of the image of Berlioz as a “man, empty and bitter from being misunderstood”: “I have just finished reading his Intimate letters , and I feel that many of our contemporaries do not claim anything better than the same attitude towards them, as was shown to Berlioz”. [15, p. 24-27]. A. Honegger rejected the “romanticized and moral theme of the popular perceptions” about the life and creative heritage of Berlioz that existed in the middle of the XX century. [15, p. 24-27]. There was no significant change in attitude towards the composer or to his work in the following decades.
Research of the problems of evolution of the genres of Berlioz’s sacred music, due to criticism of Christianity in France during the 1840’s and 1850’s, as well as the strengthening of realism in the French musical art, can change the traditional perception about the work of Berlioz, who stated the fact of crisis in faith and noted the unmodern (“not quite up-to-date”) character of the musical content of a number of fragments of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”.
French composers of the second half if the XIX and beginning of the XX centuries, who felt the connection between the synthetic oratorio works of Berlioz with the spiritual climate of his era, were referring to the oratorio genre (French musical drama, mystery play) as a theatrical-symphonic genre, which allows to express the spiritual and civil position of the artist. Berlioz’s sacred music is relevant for the Christian world even in the XXI century.
Berlioz’s libretto as a synthesis of the elements of spiritual and secular content
Berlioz’s versified libretto for “The Childhood of Christ”, first translated into the Russian language by M. L. Anninskaya, was published in 2007 in the collection: “Hector Berlioz, oratorio The Childhood of Christ (L’Enfance du Christ) ”. Published by the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra. In this article the author uses this translation.
Development of the act in the oratorio-trilogy is substantiated by the literary-poetic program expressed in the libretto. The childhood of Jesus Christ is a period in time in the center of the spiritual life of the Holy Family, forced to run from Judea (Bethlehem) into Egypt (Sais); a number of years later, the Holy Family returned to Judea. By combining in his libretto the elements of poetry of a spiritual and secular content, Berlioz created a unique synthesis of genres in “The Childhood of Christ”. Narrator’s commentary in the oratorio-trilogy is concentrated on the well-known facts and the storyline from the canonized Gospels: the sacrament of the birth of Jesus Christ, Adoration of the Shepherds, appearance of the Angels, and escape to Egypt. . The poetic text of Berlioz also reflects the stories that are not mentioned in the canonized Gospels (“The Rest on the Flight into Egypt”, “The Arrival at Sais”); these motifs come up in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel. .
The storyline motifs of the libretto (“Birth of Christ”, “Adoration of the Shepherds”, “Flight into Egypt”) are in a constant dialogue with the famous painting of the Western European art of the XIV-XVI centuries. The synthesis of arts is an intrinsic aspect of creating though of the era of Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner. “Activation of visual expression” (as V. N. Kholopova puts it) in Berlioz’s oratorio-trilogy is evident in both, the dialogue with the themes of the works of fine art, and the musical content.
Synthesis of the genre elements in the creative concept of the oratorio-trilogy
Berlioz included the elements of the antique genre of mystery play (“invisible theatre”) into the synthetic whole, formed by a combination of the genre aspects of oratorio, symphony, musical theatre (opera), and drama theatre; the part III also contains “instrumental theatre” (the trio of young Ishmaelites, “scene within a scene”). In the vocal-symphonic theatricalized concept of “The Childhood of Christ” the elements of mystery play in the final scenes of each of the three parts of the oeuvre carry out a structuring function; the choirs of invisible Angels coordinate the process of the musical-dramaturgical development of the oratorio-trilogy.
Dramaturgical functions of the Narrator in the oratorio-trilogy
The vocal-symphonic sections with the solo of the Narrator in the oratorio-trilogy are placed in the beginning of part I, middle section of the part II, beginning of the part III, and Epilogue (scene 3, part III), where Narrator’s solo is accompanied by the choir of invisible Angels. The vocal-symphonic sections with the solo part of the Narrator form a generalized lyrical and philosophical sphere of the musical dramaturgy of the work, in which the development of the idea of eternity of the Christian love is presented. These sections are placed in the nodes of the vocal-symphonic concept: framing the composition, they carry out preparation for the culmination in the development of an act.
Narrator’s solo part (narration) is a “speaking language” (expression of Martin Heidegger), which exists in the space-time dimensions of the rapidly changing world. Each of the four vocal-symphonic sections with the solo of the narrator combines two goals: narration of the act and interpretation of its content.
Part I. Composition. Peculiarities of the musical dramaturgy
The structure of the oratorio-trilogy has a high level of balance, which is reflected in the structuring of a harmonic correspondence between the requirements of the poetic text, and the logic of the musical composition. The compositional plan of part I looks the following way:
First vocal-symphonic section with the solo part of the Narrator (untitled)
Scene 1. “Nocturnal March”; dialogue between a centurion and the commander of the Roman patrol
Scene 2. “Inside Herod's palace. Herod’s Aria”
Scene 3. Dialogue between Herod and Polydorus, the captain of the Roman guards (untitled)
Scene 4. “Herod and the Soothsayers”
Scene 5. “At the Cradle in Bethlehem. Duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph”
Scene 6. Chorus of invisible Angels and the Holy Family (untitled).
The monography by A. A. Khokhlovkina titled “Berlioz” (1960) has an imprecise number of scenes in “The Childhood of Christ”: part I contains four scenes; part II contains three scenes with “episodes that invoke purely visual associations”; part III – four scenes and the Epilogue (scene 5). [5, p. 402]. In M. L. Anninskaya’s translation of the libretto of “The Childhood of Christ” the titles of the six scenes from part I correspond with the original. In this article, the author bases upon the order and numeration of scenes provided by the composer in the score.
Vocal-symphonic concept of part I represents a composition of the symphonic development of action, in which the solo, recitative and dialogue, ensemble and choral parts are coordinated based on the logic of a continuous symphonic development of the musical fabric; each scene carries out a specific dramaturgical function.
Characteristics of the cooperating contrasting characters are presented in the scenes 1-4 of part I of the oratorio-trilogy; development of the musical content lies in the foundation of the structure of intonation-dramaturgical spheres, which can be conditionally defined in the following way: “Romans in Jerusalem” (1); “Herod’s Dream” (2); “Herod and Rome – rulers of Judea” (3); “Magic and witchery of Judaic soothsayers” (4). Based on the polyphonic collaboration of these spheres of the musical dramaturgy the composer forms a concept of continuous development of an act in part I of the oratorio-trilogy.
The polyphonic principle of development of the vocal-symphonic fabric used by Berlioz (simultaneously combining emotionally contrasting characters, themes, and sections of the form) allowed the composer to present an “emotional contrast in simultaneity” (definition of V. N. Kholopova). [18, p. 262]. Following this principle Berlioz revealed before the audience the contrast of two simultaneously developing “scenarios”: the ruler of Judea – King Herod, and the world of a sublime love of the Holy Family. Berlioz’s oratorio-trilogy is full of bright theatrical imagery synthesizes the elements of various genres (vocal music, symphony, opera, drama play, as well as mystery play).
The scenes 5 and 6 present images of holiness, wisdom, pietism, humbleness, and obedience before God. These images of the Newborn Jesus, earthly Mother of Jesus Christ – St. Mary, and St. Joseph-carpenter – the “inner patriarch” (Paul Claudel). The duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph by the cradle in Bethlehem (scene 5) seamlessly moves into scene 6 of the core development of the act.
The Holy Family – a union based upon a sublime, tender love; to characterize this type of love, especially within a family, the ancient Greek language had a definition of “storge” (ancient Greek στοργή), along with the basic notions of love: “agape”, “philia”, and “eros”. A scholar-philologist S. S. Averintsev clarified that: “Both, the Christian agape and Christian eros carried an ascetical character”. [2, p. 282].
In this research the author uses definitions of “Christian storge ” and “Christian agape ” to distinguish between the lyrical-dramatic and lyrical-psychological spheres of the musical dramaturgy of the oratorio-trilogy. In Berlioz’s work the musical characteristics of the images of the Holy Family shown in development are joined by lyrical-dramatic sphere of the musical dramaturgy, which can be provisionally called the sphere of the Christian “storge”.
In scene 6 the chorus of invisible Angels influences the Holy Family to run into Egypt to save the Newborn Jesus from the persecution by Herod. The genre code of a mystery play (participation of Divine powers protecting the Holy Family) exists in the final sections of each of the parts of the oratorio-trilogy; the generalized image of the Divine powers is endowed with semantics of a Divine love of Angels towards the Holy Family.
The exposition of part I of the oratorio-trilogy presents a system of images of a large compositional block consisting of four scenes (1-4). The development of the musical dramaturgy presents two contrasting “scenarios”: the first scenario contains the system of images of authority – “Romans in Jerusalem” / “Herod and Rome – rulers of Judea”. The second scenario of the musical-dramaturgical development presents the characteristics of the images of the Holy Family.
Part I. “Herod’s Dream”. First vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part
The first vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part (tenor) and six continuous scenes of various scale intertwined by the development of the storyline, represent a certain creative whole. This section is also the exposition of the oratorio-trilogy, in which the Narrator relates the poetic program for the act in part I of the oeuvre:
“In the manger at this time Jesus had just been born,
But no wonder had yet made him known.
And already the powerful were trembling;
Already the weak were hoping.
Everyone was waiting.
Now learn, Christians, what a monstrous crime
Was suggested to the King of the Jews by terror.
And the celestial warning that in their humble stable
Was sent to the parents of Jesus by the Lord”.
Narrator’s interpretation of the content of the poetic text is closely linked with the development of the part of the symphonic orchestra. The narrative and associative elements of exposition in the poetic text, intended by the author for Narrator’s part, complement each other. Defining the conflicting opposition of the characters and clash of opposing categories (life/death, truth/deception, love/hate, good/evil), Narrator interprets the poetic text as an area filled with deep meaning and vivid emotional and psychological content. Narrator’s part actively participates in the discovery of the conceptual and emotional-psychological subtext of the events, as well as strengthening of the main idea of the creative plan of the composer.
For the solo tenor the composer laid out the character of the performance in the score: “solemnly”; phrases of melodized recitative of the soloist are separated by precise pauses, which underline the meaning of emotionally conservative speech. Narrator’s solo is performed on a piano, in a moderate tempo (Moderato un poco lento). Abundance of pauses, the effect of which is strengthened by fermatas, distinguishes the texture of the orchestral part, characterized by a rotational intro of mutually complementing groups of woodwind and string instruments. The vocal-symphonic texture of the sections with Narrator’s solo contains pauses – “parameters of expression”. We can assume that these idea units of musical fabric represent phenomena of indescribable presence of God, who came in flesh.
The scholar of Berlioz’s work and his biographer Adolphe Boschot notes the uniqueness of the sound atmosphere in the first vocal-symphonic section of part I, which gives a feeling of “antique wind instruments, for example the scrannel horns; as well as of phlegmatic stolidity of the Oriental musicians-instrumentalists. This sound poetry comes from afar, from the depths of space and time”. [19, p. 346].
With composer’s evident attempt to achieve “classical calmness” in the figures of speech and softening of the expression of affects, the musical language of Narrator’s vocal part is rich with dynamically active and unexpectedly bold modulation “shifts”, colorful mode-harmonic complexes, which reveal the innovational character of Berlioz’s way of thinking. The alterative-chromatic drawing of the melodic “horizontal”, which associates with the elements of archaic musical ornamentation of the Ancient East, is the notable peculiarity of the musical content of the section in question. The first vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo represents an example of unique and remarkable vocal-symphonic synthesis within Berlioz’s work.
Example 1. Part I. First vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part
Scene 1 “Nocturnal March”. Romans in Jerusalem
Nearing of the nocturnal march, its pause; then continuation of the movement and distancing of the sounds of steps – the storyline canvas that invokes associations within art – from “The Night Watch” of Rembrandt, to the symphonic Nocturne “Festivals” of Claude Debussy. It has a clear association with the Evangelical motif of arrest of Jesus Christ, taken into custody by a unit of soldiers, equipped for the capture of an “outlaw”.
In the foundation of the composition lie the episodes-paintings that are interconnected by a sequential development of the plot. The Roman military guard moves through the night Jerusalem; during the stop at the post, a dialogue takes place between a centurion and the commander of the patrol Polydorus; then the patrol leaves. Within the score, Berlioz adds a brief theatrical-scenic remark, which executes the function of literary-poetic program: “A street in Jerusalem; A guardhouse; Roman soldiers on night patrol”. [20, p. 4]. The three-part composition of scene 1 is based on a contrasting contraposition of the instrumental-symphonic ends (“Nocturnal March”) – central vocal-recitative dialogical episode a capella . A researcher A. Khokhlovkina notes the theatrical imagery – “individual expressiveness… of this seemingly completely non-oratorio scene”. [5, p. 402].
In the dialogical episode of centurion and Polydorus (tenor and bass) there is a significant influence of the expressive aspects of drama theatre, creative value of theatrical-declamational, and a speech intro: accents in on the rhythm, which highlights the phonetic structure of the word. At the forefront is the logical-conceptual beginning; the listeners’ attention is concentrated on the rising action of the plot: Roman officers stationed in Jerusalem are discussing the strange and humorous behavior of the tyrant Herod. “I need two very good musicians with perfect voices for Soldiers” – wrote Berlioz to the Strasbourg composer, musician and conductor of “The Childhood of Christ” François Schwab. [8, p. 179].
The “Nocturnal March” stands out due to its internal contrast of the musical material. The elements of separate theme constructs are capable of polyphonic development: the melodic, harmonic, and timbre-rhythmic components of the musical fabric are distinct in their brilliant uniqueness. Within each of the sections the composer intermittently brings the colorfulness and clarity of the timbres of separate groups of instruments to the forefront. “It does not contain any violent effects, trumpets and cornets are not used and there are only two horns” – writes Berlioz to Liszt in January of 1855. [8, p. 81]. With a paired orchestral composition (2 flutes, 2 oboes, English horn, clarinet in B , French horns in Es , bassoons and timpani in C and in G ) the composer was able to reach the clarity and colorfulness of sound; the alternating homogeneous groups of instruments are complementing each other.
The symphonic development of the “Nocturnal March” contains dynamically cooperating rhythmic-intonation complexes and timbre-rhythmic elements; among them are the distinct starting motif of the French horn with the rising fourth (“military signal”) and the uniform pizzicato movement of the bass string instruments with sordini (“sounds of steps”). This sound-expressing thematic complex not only forms the “background” for development of the main theme of “Nocturnal March”, but also takes part in creation of the image of the military patrol of Romans approaching the guard post.
The main theme in “Nocturnal March” (c-moll) is the main musical characteristic of the image of the Roman soldiers, which grows out of the opening unaccented beat with an ascending fourth. In the process of symphonic development of the main theme of “Nocturnal March” (with wind instruments, and then strings) in violins, we see a formation of a rhythmically contrasting, polyphonically independent linear motivic complex with an “Oriental” intonation of an augmented second. On the background of development of the musical characteristics of the image of Romans, the “Oriental” thematic element, rendered by even-length durations, imparts a polyphonic contrast linked with the characteristics of the images of Ancient Judea.
“Emotional contrast in simultaneity” appears in the musical fabric of the “Nocturnal March”, with emergence of a second main theme, based on the bar-tone variation Es-dur – c-moll (8 m. before c. 3). Contrasting the first theme of “Nocturnal March” and emotionally decorated light second theme, carries an “intonational impulse” of lyricism; this theme shows connection with the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the images of the Holy Family, in the center of which is the image of Newborn Jesus. Development of the images of the Holy Family continues throughout the entire play. The bright second theme of the “Nocturnal March”, rendered into third, sixth, and fourth in the flutes’ part, consists of two clear melodic segments: first of them – a brief sounding gymel motive of thirds, “swinging” between the supporting tones of triad. The accent on the first rhythmic beat in the high voice, conditionally allows association with the swinging cradle. Another thematic segment of the second lyrical theme of the “Nocturnal March” is formed by descending movement through the tones of minor triad.
The brief development of each of the contrasting thematic elements of the second lyrically decorated theme (c. 5, c. 9) leads to its final segment, which strengthens the complex of minor thirds and minor cadence (c-moll ). At the final stage of development of this theme, we see the increasing and strengthening dominant semantic significance of the lyrical theme in the musical content of scene 1: the composer sets the requirements for the quality of its sound – melodiousness, vibrato, decrescendo, and nuancing of the sound. The listed “parameters of expression” (term of V. N. Kholopova) highlights the two-dimensional contrasting and polyphonic “background”, with the embossed contours of lyrical theme; the “drawn-out” tones in the parts of bassoons and cellos, and the timbre-rhythmic sounding sematic element of the instruments of the string group pizzicato characterize the even “steps” of the military patrol. Dynamics of the sound from pp to pppp , contributing to the creation of the dramaturgical diminuendo , corresponds to the logic of development of the storyline. The musical characteristics of the images of the Holy Family, belonging to the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the oratorio-trilogy, are placed in the secondary position of the musical-dramaturgical development.
Within the multi-layer musical fabric of the “Nocturnal March” we can see a polyphonic cooperation between the contrasting illustrative-conceptual details. The protruding motif of nearing even “steps” of the Roman military guard organically fuses with the “military” signal of the French horn. Berlioz in a theatrical manner effectively applied the solo of the timpani (c. 4), “breaking” the silence of the night; this spatial-illustrative detail precedes the “signaling” motif of the French horn, which serves as an impulse for the formation of the main theme of the march in the violins’ part.
In the middle section of the “Nocturnal March” the melodized recitative of the tenor and bass (dialogue of the Roman commanders) is joined by the distinct instrumental “strokes”, characterizing the fears of the Judaic King Herod (the mentioned thematic elements emerge for the first time in the parts of cellos and contrabasses). [20, p. 15]. The rhythmic-intonational complexes of the lyrical theme of the “Nocturnal March” , which characterizes the sphere of the images of the Holy Family alongside the fusion with the motif of the “steps” of the Roman military patrol, represent the emotionally contrasting segments of the musical fabric. The vocal-symphonic development of the “Nocturnal March” includes naturalistic sound-expressive stroke: brief descending motif-spike with grace note – a thematic element that characterizes the voice of a donkey, accompanying the Holy Family on the way to Egypt. [20, p. 16]. The oratorio-theatrical presentation of a poetic storyline implements various means of expression, creating a synthesis of elements of oratorio, symphony, and musical and drama theatre. The musical content of scene 1 stands out by its distinct uniqueness of intonational-thematic material.
Example 2. Part I. Andante misterioso (Herod’s aria)
The Andante misterioso theme consists of three intonational complexes, repeated in a form of a sequence: the symmetric motif is comprised of ascending move to fourth with the subsequent descending third “filling”; descending through the tones of triad iambic motif with syncopation and figure in a dotted rhythm; descending and “closing” the theme hexachord, which contains the imperative-affirmative intonation with diminished II degree in minor: es-d-c-b-as-g-g .
The timbre development of the Andante misterioso theme: its development reaches culmination after being performed in the parts of string instruments, and then in the parts of the soloing oboe, bassoon, English horn, and French horn; the theme performed in the part of bass is doubled by the French horns and bassoons.
The closing section of the aria preserves the principles of dramaturgical duality: bass solo (“All effort is useless! Sleep shuns me”) and the fourth repetition of the Andante misterioso theme make up the polyphonic whole; the unisons of the string instruments come through the background of the voices of woodwind instruments (flute and clarinet); tremolo of the bass string instruments (“tremor”) – a sound-illustrative stroke that characterizes the psychological state of Herod. The dramatic recitative “O endless night!” is closed by plagal cadence, and is carried through with the vibrato while orchestra holds rest, ppp . [20, p. 28].
Scene 3 contains a brief dialogue between Herod and the Roman commander Polydorus, who notifies the king of Judea of the arrival of the soothsayers he invited. This scene carries out the connecting function in the musical-dramaturgical development of part I of transition to scene 4 “Herod and Soothsayers”. In scene 3 the composer synthesizes the contrasting thematic elements of the system of images of authority: “Romans in Jerusalem” / “Herod and Rome – Rulers of Judea”. The musical material of scene 4 characterizes the pagan world of evil images of magic and witchcraft. Berlioz wrote to Liszt: “… My real find was the scene with Herod’s aria with the Soothsayers, it has great character…” [8, p. 77].
In scene 4 “Herod and Soothsayers” the king-usurper is characterized from the perspective of “external” interaction with the occult. The researcher A. Khokhlovkina noted the inherent in the musical language of this scene “certain Oriental colors”, originality of the timbre style, and variety of rhythms. [5, p. 403].
Scene 5. “At the Cradle in Bethlehem”. Duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph
If in scenes 1-4 the characteristics of the elevated images of the Holy Family are presented in the “background” of the dramaturgy, in scenes 5-6 development of the images of the lyrical-dramatic and lyrical-psychologic spheres is at the forefront.
In Berlioz’s work the ensembles carry out the key dramaturgical function. Placing ensembles into the nodal moments of development of an act, Berlioz added dynamicity to the act. The lyrical duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph-carpenter represent the third ensemble in part I; oratorio-trilogy contains two core duet scenes of St. Mary and St. Joseph (duet of lyrical nature in scene 5, and duet of intense lyrical-dramatic character in scene 1 of part III), which comprise the conceptual and constructive arch, ensuring symmetrical proportionality and integrity of the composition of the oratorio-trilogy.
The spiritually elevated emotional atmosphere of the duet in Bethlehem is preserved in the lyrical-dramatic duet of part III. The mentioned ensembles represent the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the Christian “storge”. The uniqueness of compositional rendition and principles of development of the musical material in the duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph at the cradle in Bethlehem, define the specificity of development of the vocal-symphonic concept of “The Childhood of Christ”. The foundation of this duet is comprised of expanded characteristics of the images of the Holy Family.
In his letter to Liszt in December of 1854, Berlioz notes that the musical material for the lyrical duet at the cradle in Bethlehem is capable of moving the audience. [8, p. 77]. In the duet the composer created an ambiguous atmosphere of emotional-psychological perception of the sacrament of the Birth of Christ. The multifaceted psychological characteristics of the images of the Holy Family in the duet of scene 5 (part I) are developing on the foundation of a skillful implementation by Berlioz of the dramaturgical principle of “emotional contrast in simultaneity”. Berlioz resorts to recreation/renewing of the method of embodiment of emotional process adopted from the classics (Gluck, Mozart, and Beethoven), defined as “emotional modulation”, the essence of which consists in the transition “within one construct from original feeling to the opposite”. [18, p. 265].
In his reasoning about the Western European tradition of outlook upon the sacrament of Christmas, the researcher S. S. Averintsev used the term “sacred coziness of family idyll”; at the same time, the thinker took into account the presence of opposing in meaning aspects of psychological sensations in this phenomenon. [21, p. 155]. According to the Catholic tradition, the so-called “Rosary rings” are divided into Joyful Mysteries (mysteria gaudiosa ), Sorrowful Mysteries (mysteria dolorosa ), and Glorious Mysteries (mysteria gloriosa ). Berlioz ambiguously interpreted the psychological outlook upon the sacrament of the Birth of Christ in “The Childhood of Christ”. The mysteria gaudiosa aspect seemingly dominates in the St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s duet; at the same time, development of the “emotional-idyllic” aspect of the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the tender family love lacks definitiveness. Implementing his own principles of contrasting-polyphonic branch of polyphonic style in the musical fabric, the composer achieved a unique mutual harmonic correspondence of equal semantic aspects of joyful-idyllic and sorrowful: elements of the sorrowful are a priori dissolved in the joyful – “The Newborn was predestined to be the sacrifice at Golgotha”. [21, p. 155].
The seriousness, reverence, and tenderness characterize the atmosphere of harmony and peace in this duet. In the composition of the duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph we can conditionally highlight three structural components: orchestral Introduction and Conclusion, built upon similar thematic material, decorate the middle vocal-symphonic section of the duet. The leading part is the solo of mezzo-soprano.
The orchestra part in the opening section of the duet presents the psychological characteristic of the perfect, spiritually elevated Evangelic love. Cantabile, divided into small melodic phrases, the modulating theme Andantino is given to the soloing cello; the theme is doubled in the parts of flutes and first violins (`6/8` , As-dur – Es-dur, piano ) on the background of syncopated harmonic consonances; simultaneously in the parts of oboe, English horn and clarinets in B autonomous supporting voices are being formed, later creating the emotionally contrasting, counterpointing “plane of action”.
The part of the soloing mezzo-soprano maintains the structure of intonations of the opening section of the duet. The part of the first violins duplicate the flexible contour of the romance-melodious constructs, which form the main theme of the solo part of St. Mary. The group of sting instruments (arco, pp ) creates the rhythmically measured ( `3/8` + `3/8` ) texture that is of the same timbre. We can see the activity of the plagal harmonic inversions in the modal-harmonic development of the main theme of the duet; skillful implementation of altered melodic-harmonic consonances using the lower VI degree in a smoothly rounded cadence brings a colorful shade into the sound of the harmonic vertical.
Repetition of the main theme of the duet in the part of soloing mezzo-soprano, duplicated by the parts of first violins, is accompanied by the clear intonations of the soloing oboe – that is how the autonomy of the counterpointing “plane of action” is presented in the musical fabric: we can see a brief simultaneously developing sound-illustrative rhythmic-intonational complex, which imitates the sounds of the bleating lambs, gamboling around the cradle of the Newborn Jesus. On the background of melodized voices (viola and bass string instruments) the sound-illustrative naturalistic “strokes” are barely noticeable in the parts of first and second violins.
In the densely melodized texture we see a gradually emerging “darkening” influence of the “second plane” of the dramaturgy, which alters the character of the opening section of the duet. Among the counterpointing voices of the vocal-symphonic fabric stands out the melodic contour of the soloing oboe, founded on the motivic complex with the interval of an ascending minor second, carrying semantics of sorrow. The bright joy of a tender and happy family love of St. Mary and St. Joseph towards the Newborn Jesus is darkened by the shadow of sorrow. The concept of the Evangelical “storge” maintains the leading role in the further development of the lyrical duet of scene 5.
Musical characteristics of the image of St. Joseph-carpenter in the duet at the cradle in Bethlehem
“It is no longer all-naked faith in the night,
It is the love that explains and operates.
Joseph is with Mary and Mary is with the Father.”
Paul Claudel. “Saint Joseph”. [1, p. 19-20].
The part of baritone-solo joints the part of the soloing mezzo-soprano in the senza accelerando section of the duet in scene 5 (Part I). [20, p. 66]. In the joint rendition, the opening phrases of the part of St. Joseph, which enter following the principle of complementarity, comprise the consonant verticals and form a one harmonic whole. In the musical content of the duet at the cradle in Bethlehem, we see a continuous strengthening of the counterpointing “plane of action”, associated with the semantics of sorrow: the timbre of the soloing oboe promotes the emotionally contrasting intonational fabula on the background of the first and second flutes and clarinets in B sounding in unison. Within the separate layers of the vocal-symphonic fabric, the parts of violas and bass string instruments form a layer of texture that is of same timbre type, which is distinguished by the individuality of the intonational and rhythmic development. Differentiation of the voices of the homophonic-polyphonic fabric leads to the emergence of a new emotionally contrasting thematic segment in the part of St. Joseph, pertaining to the “second plane” of the dramaturgy. This complex, consisting of two descending phrases with jump to triad, contains “evil” semantics of the musical-dramaturgical sphere of the magical rituals in Herod’s palace.
Into the middle section of the duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph at the cradle in Bethlehem Berlioz included a laconic genre-stylistic episode of Animando poco assai , endowed with theatrical imagery. The dancing rhythm and gracefulness of the melodic drawing, strokes, methods of articulation, and other means of expression characterize the emotional atmosphere, substantiated by the content of the poetic text. Seeing the lambs gamboling near the cradle of the Infant Jesus, St. Mary said: “Your gifts make them happy, dear child; watch their joy and their gambols…” [20, p. 67]. The miniature episode of cloudless joy paves the way for a new level of development of the musical material of scene 5. [20, p. 68].
In the section Tempo un poco animando (f-moll ) the composer has reached the maximum possible delayering of the musical fabric: the “emotional contrast in simultaneity” is once again associated with the fragments of the scores of classical composers, who have depicted the complexity and ambiguity of the world of human emotions. The thematic complex with spikes to triad shifts from the baritone part into the solo part of mezzo-soprano endowed with the “evil” semantics; in the dramaturgy of the part of the soloing oboe that comprises the “second plane”, forms a characteristic tetrachord – an “imperative” intonational complex in which every tone is accentuated. This complex includes the interval of augmented second (f-ges-a-b ) decorated by “Oriental” semantics; the flute parts possess the individuality of the intonational image, with lines of movement that scale over the semitones. In the part of English horn and oboe the motif of descending tetrachord with “Oriental coloration” is shifted; in the parts of the first violins we can see the repetition of the naturalistic sound-illustrative thematic element, characterizing the “bleat of the lambs”. The musical texture of the string quintet is divided into contrasting rhythmic groups: the parts of second violins, intonating syncopated figures, and is rhythmically counterposes the even pulsation by eights ( `3/8` + `3/8` ) in violas and cellos. Substantiated by the rise of emotional tension in the parts of the soloists, the functional-harmonic activity of the “vertical” in the orchestra part is decreasing towards the end of the middle section of the duet. The duet is completed by a clear authentic cadence in As-dur .
In the closing section of the duet at the cradle in Bethlehem (Tempo I ) Berlioz combined the earlier contrasting-polyphonic principles of development of the vocal-symphonic fabric. At the forefront he places the thematic segments, which establish new quality and result of the process of development of the musical material. It is the canonized intro of the voices, executing a rollcall of thematic elements in the group of woodwind instruments (English horn and clarinets in B , flutes and oboes), as well as establishment of the descending minor second in the part of oboe, bringing semantics of sorrow as a “generalizing intonation” (term of V. N. Kholopova). The signs of transformation of thematic material of the duet are contained within formations of emotionally expressive rhythmic-intonational structures, which function as autonomous supporting voices in the parts of violins and violas, and in the rhythmically-differentiated thematic segments in the parts of bass string instruments. The unisons of ensemble of bass string instruments counterpoint the clear and melodically-independent part of the soloing cello; it represents a certain “delayering” of unisons into two voices, imitating the figure of “swinging” from the bottom up on the supporting tones of a perfect fifth (as-es ). This thematic complex conditionally allows association with the movement of a swinging cradle.
At the foundation of development of the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the love of the Holy Family lies the psychologically ambiguous (joyful-sorrowful) phenomenon of Christian “storge”. In the duet of scene 5 “At the Cradle in Bethlehem” Berlioz created a generalized emotional-psychologic characteristic of the spiritually-elevated creative image of the Holy Family. The Christian “storge” – the central idea behind the vocal-symphonic concept of the oratorio-trilogy, is closely connected to the emotional perception of the sacrament of Christmas, not allowing an unambiguous interpretation.
The oratorio-theatrical oeuvre of Berlioz is a multi-dimensional spiritual-musical realm, a creative reality, which belongs to the human tradition of revering the Evangelic story. The Christmas and Childhood of Jesus Christ, life, His suffering and death on the cross in the name of love towards humanity, as well as His subsequent Resurrection, form a spiritual continuum of eternity of Christian love.
Scene 6. On the Heavenly love of Angels towards the Holy Family. The elements of antique genre of mystery play in the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”. Invisible theatre
Composer’s remark “Angels are invisible”, which opens the lyrical-psychological Scene 6, indicates presence of the characteristic to the antique genre of mystery play “earthly” and “heavenly” stages of development of action in the oratorio-trilogy. At the opening of the final scene 6 the choir part is performed accompanied by the pipe organ (Lento, `4/4` ), then the part of an ensemble of soloists sounds accompanied by the string quintet (Allegretto, H-dur ). The pipe organ part, as noted by Berlioz in the score, can be performed by the harmonium. [20, p. 71]. Allowing for use of a harmonium in concert halls that did not have a pipe organ, Berlioz implied the so-called “melodium”; since 1829 melodiums were produced by a Parisian master J. Alexandre. The harmonium is a key pneumatic musical instrument known since 1784; the first harmonium was made by a Czech organ master Frantisek Kirshnik. A scholar of organ art Leonid Roizman noted the great quality of sound of “accompaniment in sustained harmonies” on the harmonium. [22, p. 826-828].
Throughout the entire scene St. Mary and St. Joseph remain in a state of unanimous inspiration, evoked by the elevated experience of immaterial event. Invisible Angels explain the cause for their appearance to the Holy Family; wishing to save the Holy Family from the impending danger from Herod, the Angles notify St. Mary and St. Joseph that they need to secretly escape through the desert into Egypt. With the hope of salvation the Holy Family departs from Bethlehem: “Obeying your orders, pure spirits of light. / We will flee into the desert with Jesus. / But grant us, in our prayer, wisdom and strength. / And we will save Him.”
The spatial vectors of the antique genre of mystery play point to simultaneous development of action on earth and in heaven; the dialogue between the invisible choir and the ensemble of soloists can be characterized as invisible theatre . In the composition of the core development of action, we can conditionally highlight three sections. The initial section includes exchange of remarks between the Angels and St. Mary, as well as ensemble (“response of the Holy Family”), in which St. Mary and St. Joseph notify the Angles of their readiness to flee. In the middle section Un poco animato (c. 34, Ges-dur – Ces-dur ) we can see an Allegretto episode rich with modulation (`3/4` , Ges-dur). In this episode the imitational-polyphonic methods of development of thematic elements dominate in both, the rendition part of the soloists (mezzo-soprano and baritone), and in the developmental segments of melodized texture of quintet of bowed string instruments. The high and mid voices of the choir are corresponding with the registration (flutes, oboes) in the organ part.
Abundance of pauses distinguishes the sound atmosphere of the final scene of part I; one of the pauses that lasts an entire bar underlines the mysteriousness of the actions, and is situated on the border between the middle and final sections. This clear pause is marked by a notation “Silence”. [20, p. 74].
In the score Berlioz indicates the positioning of the choir of invisible Angles behind the scenes, in a separate room near the orchestra, “with an open door”; he also marks the moment when the door should be closed, to act as a sordino. [20, p. 71, 78]. The choir consists of a group of female voices (5 first, and 5 second voices of soprano) and a group of boys choir (5 first, and 5 second voices of alto). The organ part, which accompanies the choir, and the violin part, which accompanies the ensemble of the soloing mezzo-soprano and baritone, carry a similarity of choral elements of the texture and commonness of the rhythmic-intonational elements; combination of chords, rendered in great durations, is executed by the melodic-harmonic method of movement of one of the voices through the tones of chromatic scale.
About the result of his unique compositional approach, which Berlioz invented in the finale of part I, he writes to his sister Adèle in December of 1854; the composer wrote about a special affect it had on audience during the second performance of “The Childhood of Christ” in Paris by the final “Hosanna” – singing of “invisible Angels, who as a result of creation of a half-shadow effect in the singing, become as if lost in space and ascend into heaven”. [8, p. 79]. The voices of the first soprano (tutti, mf ) on the background of the simultaneous sounds of organ and quintet of the string instruments, intonate the beginning of the melodic phrase “Hosanna”; it is continued by other voices of the invisible choir, piano (H-dur, `3/4` then `9/8` mf – p ).
Example 3. Part I. Scene 6. Choir of invisible Angels. Hosanna.
Part II. “Flight into Egypt”. Composition. Peculiarities of the musical dramaturgy
In part II Berlioz presented the oratorio-theatrical interpretation of the stories, widely known in visual art: “Adoration of the Shepherds”, “Flight into Egypt”, and “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt”.
The middle part of the oratorio-trilogy includes four consecutive uninterrupted sections of varying scale: section 1 – Overture (fugato); section 2 – “The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family” (“chorus of the shepherds”); section 3 – second vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part “The Repose of the Holy Family”; section 4 – final song Hallelujah (chorus of the Angels). Laconic end sections enclose the expanded sections 2 and 3 located in the middle.
The closing episode of part II Hallelujah of the Angels presents the immaterial genre aspect of the oratorio-trilogy. The Heavenly host accompanies the beginning of the earthly path of Jesus Christ, protecting the Holy Family. The chorus of the Angels Hallelujah forms the dramaturgical rhyme with the closing chorus Hosanna (part I), and the final chorus Amen ; the thematic elements of the three closing choruses of each of the sections of the oratorio-trilogy form the mysterious sphere of the musical dramaturgy. Positioning of the choral songs of the Angels in the final sections of the vocal-symphonic concept gives the overall musical form a classical strictness of proportions, compositional symmetry, and completeness. The mystification of Berlioz, who initially calls “Flight into Egypt” a mystery play by the made-up composer Pierre Ducré, contained a specific reference to the presence of the elements of the antique genre of mystery play in this oeuvre. [8, p. 92].
The Overture (fugato) for part II, Moderato un poco lento , `3/4` , was written for a smaller orchestral ensemble (two flutes, oboe, English horn, and string quintet), and its expressive sound was rich with melancholy and lyricism. The timbres of oboe and English horn remind of pastoral musical pictures of Berlioz – “Scene in the Fields” from the “Symphonie Fantastique”, and the symphony of “Harold in Italy”.
The musical fabric of the Overture contains the intonational-thematic elements that come up in the subsequent sections of the oratorio-trilogy: “The Repose of the Holy Family” (part II), and beginning of part III “The Arrival at Sais”. A number of researches notate the intonational similarity between the theme of fugato and beginning of part III, despite the differences in their rhythmic arrangement. Some modal-melodic specificity of the musical language in oratorio-trilogy, including the Overture, resemble the archaic motif of the church songs; in the letter addressed to the famous French poet Théophile Gautier, Berlioz states that the Overture is written “in a antiquated form, reminiscent of Gregorian chant”. [8, p. 37].
Example 4. Part II. Overture
With the evident clarity of voice leading, tone-melodic contours (fis-moll, cis-moll, gis-moll ), in the content and structure of the fugato theme a special significance lies in the intermittent emergence of the “flashing” tones “E♮”and “E♯” (as well as “A♯” and “A♮” – third tone with regards to the main tone fis ). Within the polyphonic arrangement of the musical fabric, the alternation of tones of the mode creates a picture of a variable inconsistency of the modal-melodic coloration of the overture. The modal-melodic phenomenon of the main theme of fugato is characterized by the researcher A. Khokhlovkina as an “antique tune”. [5, p. 405]. In the fugato theme we can clearly see application of diatonically colored tone “E♮” as a VII “natural” degree in fis-moll , which gives the theme an “archaic character”. Besides the main tone fis , in the structure of the fugato theme the comprising tones gis, a, e, h are independent; between these tones we see emergence of functional relation in the range of the pentachord [e ] fis-gis-a-h .
Melodic unisons of the wind instruments in the case of modal variability intonationally and rhythmically highlight the importance of the tone “e ♮ ” during the pauses in the parts of the string quintet. Conditionally “lowest” tone “e ” of the pentachord [e] fis-gis-a-h , which is often compared to the “opening” tone (“e♯ ”), completely rejects the latter. If tone “e♯ ”, belonging to the tonality of a dominant (Cis-dur ) and gravitating towards the tonic (fis ), reveals regularities of the action of the system of gravitations towards third-fifth “traditions” (in the conditions of major-minor modal-harmonic system), then the structural units of the mode artificially created by Berlioz using the tone “e ♮ ” function differently; the order of tones in the mode in question looks the following way: [e/e♯ ] fis-gis-a-h -(cis-d/dis-e )-fis.
Within separate thematic complexes of combination of the tones of the aforementioned mode gain an expressive coloration thanks to the correlations of seconds and fourths with the main tone “fis ”. Variability of the “opening” and “diatonic” tones during transition to the main tone is maintained by the composer all the way to the closing bars of the Overture, where the “opening” tone turned out to be rejected. We can presuppose that the provided maneuver of the modal-harmonic development functions as a “program” parameter of the musical content: peripeteias of the fabula of “The Flight into Egypt” pertain to the topology of a path – space-time and emotional-psychological transformations in the life of the Holy Family.
The fabula of “Adoration of the Shepherds”
The testimony of the shepherds about the birth of Jesus Christ is offered in the Gospel of Luke (Luke, 2:8-20). It mentions that an Angel appeared in a field in front of the place, where the shepherds were holding a night watch over their flock. The shepherds were stricken with fear at the sight of the Angel. But the Angel told them to not be afraid, for he brings good tidings for all people, a message that the Messiah was born, and that they will find the child “wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger”. [Luke 2:12]. The shepherds set out to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the Newborn laying in the manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely[a] known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. [Luke 2:16-18]. Glorifying and praising God for all that they have seen, the shepherds returned: everything was just “as it was told them”. [Luke 2:20]. The Apocryphal Infancy Gospel says that: “As the shepherds returned, and having started a fire were rejoicing, the heavenly host has appeared praising and glorifying the Lord”. [17, p. 254]. Some of the church writers state that there were three shepherds who saw the Savior; “…other accounts hold that they were four, and their names were: Misael, Achael, Cyriacus, and Stephanus”. [17, p. 254].
World of the shepherds – the first Christians, the poor of the Judaic society – was the spiritual union of a new faith. The New Testament has changed the nature of relations between men and God, which became based not on the sacred “Biblical” fear, but rather upon love and mutual trust. A German writer-humanist of the XX century Thomas Mann noted the “interest in humans” – a general human credo of worldview of the first Christians, who were the shepherds. [23, p. 705, 712]. God already existed in the faith of the primordial Jews (shepherds), to whom the Angel revealed Christ as the epiphany of love. The aspiration to serve only the Most High led the shepherds to bow before the Infant Jesus, and prompted them to entrust their souls to Christ.
The spiritually elevated love became for the shepherds a path to the truth, and simultaneously the very truth of existence. The shepherds were the “first believers among the Jewish people” (J. W. Goethe)/ [24, p. 435]. They were the first to whom the Angels explained the path to salvation through Christ, and this good news the shepherds shared with the first rich soothsayers – “first pagans”, who arrived from afar, and later accepted Christianity. In his essay “Holy Soothsayers” (1820) Goethe underlines the importance of the meeting between the shepherds and the soothsayers – the first Christians and first pagans. [24, p. 435].
Art historian Alexander Maykapar noted the fact that since the XIV century the most popular in Italy was the story of “Adoration of the Shepherds”: “The poverty of the shepherds depicted by artists often reached extremes (Giorgione)”. [25, p. 71]. The scholar also points to the presence on the canvases of XV-XVI centuries of Angels, who are depicted singing hymns from sheet music in honor of the birth of Jesus Christ. The painting of Rembrandt “The Adoration of the Shepherds” (1646) illustrates a night scene: a bright light emitted by the Infant relates the “transforming power, which entered the world with the arrival of Christ; the faces, affected by the light emanating from the Newborn, express delight and faith”. [25, p. 72].
The fabula “The Flight into Egypt” in visual art
According to the claim of Alexander Maykapar, the earliest example of manifestation of the story “The Flight into Egypt” is the illustration of Master Bertram (approx. 1379) “on the so-called Grabow Altarpiece”. [25, p. 93]. The canonized principle of illustration is the movement of the Holy Family from left to right, depicted on the canvases of Giotto, Monogrammist AB, Dürer, and Bassano. [25, p. 91]. “The patron Angels of the Holy Family in this journey, exist even in the earliest illustrations of this story in Roman mosaics. They can also be found in the works of the more recent masters. It is either an Angel (Giotto), or a host of them (Dürer).” [25, p. 92].
In his essay “Antique and Modern” (1818) Goethe conducted an in-depth analysis of the theme “The Flight into Egypt”: “First and foremost, we must understand how significant is the story of the promising infant, a descendant of ancient royalty, who is destined to have a tremendous effect on the entire world, for it will lead to demolition of the old, and the renewed will rejoice and the boy, in the arms of his devoted mother and protection of the caring elder will escape, and with God’s help, survive. Various episodes of this important event have been illustrated hundreds of times, and multiple creative works on this topic that have emerged, often fascinate us”. [24, p. 306].
“The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family”. “Shepherd’s Chorus”
The poetic text written by Berlioz for the “Shepherd’s Chorus” relates the reverence and tenderness of the Bethlehem shepherds, whose life is simple and poor, towards the Infant Jesus, born in poverty. The shepherds sympathize with the life circumstances of the Holy Family, who are forced to seek shelter away from home: “He is going away, far from the land / Where, in a stable, he first saw light of day”.
Mentioning the guardian Angel, the shepherds express the hope for the safety of the Holy Family. The thoughts and feelings of the shepherds are founded upon the love and fear of God, and righteous humbleness and tenderness towards the Newborn Jesus. These virtues are a part of the core values of Christianity. The devotional and adoring feeling of tender love of the shepherds towards the Infant Jesus is interpreted by Berlioz as a feeling present in all of humanity.
The “Shepherd’s Chorus” represents the “anthroposophical” center of the oratorio-trilogy. The elements from the Biblical account of the shepherds, as well as traces of canonized and apocryphal Gospels are synthesized by the composer in a single musical-poetic text. The conceptual content of the latter – the birth of Christ – an event that is experienced by the Christian world as a reality.
After creating the “tragedy of humanity” and human, who has lost faith (the dramatic legend “The Damnation of Faust”), Berlioz interpreted “all that is human” in the “Shepherd’s Chorus” from the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ”. The “Shepherd’s Chorus” is characterized by the researcher Adolphe Boschot as a “passionate prayer”, permeated by the pathos of the high designation of human and the entire humanity; “the sound poetry relates feelings that cannot be put into words”. [19, p. 353, 354]. Out of the “Shepherd’s Chorus”, as if from a single “lyrical sprout”, grew the creative concept of the eternity of Christian love.
“Shepherd’s Chorus”. Composition; connection to the main idea of the creative concept of the oratorio-trilogy
“So much freshness in this organic tale; only it feels rather short, invoking a temptation to re-tell it more thoroughly by adding the rest of the details” (Goethe). [23, p. 702]. This statement does not pertain to Berlioz’s work, but these words by Goethe characterize the emotional and psychological content of the “Shepherd’s Chorus” from “The Childhood of Christ”, as well as composer’s plan to develop the creative concept – the path of “finishing details”, which can be seen in the story of creation of the oratorio-trilogy.
The four-voice choir (Allegretto, `3/8` , E-dur ) follows the attacca after the Overture to part II “The Flight into Egypt”. In a brief orchestral Introduction, the part of oboe and clarinet in A imitate the sound of a shepherd’s horn or the antique French instruments – musette, or hautbois du Poitou. This oboe represents a type of a bagpipe, popular in France during the XVII-XVIII centuries; hautbois du Poitou was used in the opera orchestra of Lully.
The instrumental four-measure with anacrusis to the “Shepherd’s Chorus” – an allusion of pastoral play – decorates the sound of the choir and serves as a linking transition between the rhymes. Four verses have a symmetric structure, each of which includes 40 measures: 4 m. (introduction) + 8 m. | + 8 m. | + 8 m. | + 12 m. The first and second phrases (8 m. + 8 m.) are rhymed; the versicular text of the third phrase (8 m.) is fully repeated in the fourth phrase (8 m.), while the second part of the last phrase (4 m.) is repeated twice.
Example 5. Bethlehem shepherds’ chorus. Beginning
The tonal-harmonic development in “Shepherd’s Chorus” stands out by the modulation activity: the second phrase modulates into tonality of III degree (gis-moll ); beginning of the harmonic development of the third phrase in tonality of II degree (fis-moll ) leads to an intermediate structure – tonic of a parallel minor (cis-moll ). The fourth phrase includes brave deviations into G-dur , C-dur – tonalities of distant degrees of relation, modal replacement for same minor (e-moll ), followed by a hold on the dominant harmony (H-dur ), which intensifies the functional gravitation towards the main tonality (E-dur ).
Berlioz was absolutely certain in the lack of any perception of historical styles of musical thinking among his Parisian contemporaries; implying the mystification with the mystery play of Pierre Ducré, which he himself made up exposing the stagnation of mundane tastes, the composer states with some sarcasm: “One must be as ignorant as a carp to believe that an XVIII century composer could possibly create the modulation in the middle of the chorus”. [8, p. 37].
Beginning of the final section of “Shepherd’s Chorus” in the score is marked by a dynamic designation pppp , which corresponds with the logic of development of an invisible scenic act: the sacrament of the prayer is over, and the shepherds are leaving the manger. Berlioz’s biographer Adolphe Boschot compares the “hidden, barely detectable tenderness” of the “Shepherd’s Chorus” with the character of a ceremonial scene of the farewell “offerings” at the tomb of Eurydice from the opera “Orpheus” by Gluck; a researcher also noted certain genre similarities between Berlioz’s “Shepherd’s Chorus” and some of the chorus scenes from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”. [19, p. 355].
The elevated emotional-psychological and moral aspects of “The Childhood of Christ” was pertinent for the France of beginning of 1950’s due to a new attitude towards the concepts of Christianity related to criticism of Neo-Catholicism; the new understanding of the idea of Christian love lies in the foundation of the central part of the oratorio-trilogy. Renewal of the spiritual world of the first Christians started with metamorphoses of the soul; in the “The Shepherd’s Farewell to the Holy Family” Berlioz presented manifestation of Christian love as a dominant spiritual force of the modern world.
“The Repose of the Holy Family”. Fundamental images. Psychological interpretation of the events. Second vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo
The scene “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” in the visual art is known since the end of the XIV century, despite its absence in the canonized Gospels. Analyzing the peculiarities in the illustration of “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt” on the canvases of Gentile da Fabriano (1423), Rembrandt (1627), and Agostino Carracci (approx. 1600), the researcher Alexander Maykapar notes an instance of rather unique interpretation of this scene in the painting by Caravaggio: “The artist illustrates an Angel playing a violin from the score held by Joseph. (The notes here are written calligraphically, as in few of his other paintings; it is possible that these are the upper parts of three madrigals – a precise identification of the music in this painting has yet to be done). The carefully listening to the music donkey reminds us of the devotedly singing donkey in the painting by Piero della Francesca “The Nativity” (approx. 1470; London, National Gallery): the irony is in the fact that a donkey has always been considered the most unmusical animal”. [25, p. 94].
The topology of the path lies in the foundation of the scene “The Repose of the Holy Family”. The decision of St. Joseph to travel to Egypt is described in the Gospel of Matthew: “So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt. He remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called My Son””. [Matthew, 2:14-15]. The move in the night from the temporary shelter in Bethlehem into unknown and dangerous expanse of the desert was done in secrecy. The apocryphal sources mention three boys accompanying St. Joseph – his sons from his first marriage, of the palm, which bent its branches to cover St. Mary and Jesus from the scorching heat, and other accounts. [17, p. 90-91].
With his musical-poetic imagination Berlioz created a picturesque painting of a blossoming meadow, greenery of the palm trees, and a creek streaming between the rocks. The emotional-psychological perception of the beauty of nature in this picture is inseparable from the concept of a righteous life of the Holy Family. Oasis in the desert represents a “fundamental image” associated with the sacred hope of the Holy Family for salvation. The image of the oasis illustrates deep psychological truths: value of life and its renewal, which are semantically connected with experience of happiness – “Life begins with prosperity”. [26, p. 166]. At the same time, the exquisite image of beauty, peace, and grace (oasis) conceptually counterposes the image of desert, traversing which holds danger for the Judaic travelers; the Apocryphal Infancy Gospel describes an episode of an encounter with bandits. [17, p. 261-262].
Representative of the French branch of the phenomenology Gaston Bachelard, who analyzed the scientific descriptions of the renowned researcher of oceanic depths Philippe Diolé, has come to a conclusion that the world referred to as desert is the “fundamental image” that is attributable to the “internal space”. According to the philosopher, leaving the plane of the usual sensory perception, a person comes into contact with a plane that carries out the psychological renewal. [26, p. 297-298].
In the part II of “The Childhood of Christ”, the concept of Christian “storge” – a feeling of tender love of the parents towards the sleeping Infant Jesus, is attributed to the fundamental image of the space (oasis), which contains the semantic aspect of psychological rebirth. Coordination of the fundamental images in the part II of “The Flight into Egypt” with the idea of Christian “storge” leads to a deep realization of the emotional-psychological ties between the human and world. “We can feel as under the influence of the poetic spatiality, which sets a connection between the intimate world of the soul and the endless external space, combining them in a common expanse, the greatness is born”. [26, p. 292]. The Christian “stroge” is demonstrated in part II of “The Childhood of Christ” as a moral foundation for the righteous life of the Holy Family; beautiful nature is an intrinsic component of this life.
The second vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo “The Repose of the Holy Family” contains a story about the internal experiences of St. Mary on the way to Egypt, as well as the psychological implication, revealing the feelings of Narrator towards the events. The parts of Narrator and the symphonic orchestra participate in the creation of the musical-poetic scene, perceived through the eyes of St. Mary; contemplation/description of nature by Narrator is correlated with the emotional-psychological implication, which reveals the world of St. Mary’s feelings. This section represents the notion of eternity of Christian love as the main idea of the vocal-symphonic concept. “The Repose of the Holy Family”, situated in the center of part II, follows the attacca after the “Shepherd’s Chorus”.
Development of the act in the vocal-symphonic section of “The Repose of the Holy Family” with Narrator’s solo is supported by the program presented in the poetical text. In Narrator’s dynamic storytelling there is mention of continuous movement of the Holy Family through the desert, and arrival in a valley, where the travellers saw lush crowns of the trees, and the clear water of a creek “streaming through the rocks” (M. Anninskaya). Saint Joseph said: “Stop! / Near to this clear spring / After such long hardship / Here let us rest!” The baby Jesus was sleeping… So Mary, stopping the donkey, replied: “Look at this lovely carpet of soft grass / And flowers, the Lord has laid it down / In the desert for my son.” Then, having sat down in the shade / Of three green-leaved palm trees, / While the donkey grazed and the child slept, / The holy travellers dozed for a while, / Lulled by happy dreams; / And the heavenly angels who knelt around them / Worshipped the holy child.
In the process of development of the vocal-symphonic musical fabric, the border between the inner structural components of this section could only be conditionally demarcated. The idyllic instrumental pastoral (Allegretto grazioso,`6/8,` a-moll – A-dur ), performed in rotation by the groups of high wood and string instruments, contains a roll-call of laconic melodic phrases. The modal shifting is characterizes the emotional-expressive singing-dancing theme of Allegretto grazioso , which continues to accompany Narrators story about St. Mary. The psychological depth of the musical characteristics of the image of St. Mary distinguishes the creative concept of “The Childhood of Christ”; the theme Allegretto grazioso – a clear component of the multifaceted characteristic of the image of St. Mary presented within the development. The principle modal variability stated above continues to function as an invariant intonational element of the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the oratorio-trilogy.
The symphonic orchestra part, which expands the psychological undertone of the events told by Narrator, contains a generalized development of the feeling of tender family love (the Christian “storge”). Formation of the creative concept of eternity of Christian love was taking place on the background of modern reassessment of Christianity in the atmosphere of natural scientific vision of the changing world, and the metamorphoses of the human soul. Berlioz’s noteworthy statement about the “religious constitution of harmonies and melodic construct”, in “The Repose of the Holy Family”: “There is nothing strange in the tenor solo narrating the repose of the Holy Family in the desert, other than the melodic structure and harmonies, the religious constitution of which is not quite up to modern standards (cursive – V. A.). [8, p. 38].
The spiritual reality of the Gospel scene is located in the area of Christian faith, deep-rooted in the consciousness of Europeans; in the oratorio-trilogy Narrator embodies the generalized image of a modern man, whose faith has wavered since the times of the Age of Enlightenment; transforming, the image of Narrator emerges in a new light (Epilogue).
Narrator’s solo is partially included by the composer into the continuous development of the musical fabric. Laconic declamational-melodic phrases introduce freshness of speech patterns into the “thematically contrasting correlations” of elements of the musical texture (V. P. Protopopov). [27, p. 400]. In the beginning of this section the laconic vocal phrases of Narrator’s solo part were seemingly only “added” to the “dialogue” of the wind and string instrument groups; thus emerges a complementary principle of the polyphonic thinking of Berlioz: “The counterpointing is introduced only when listener has become familiar with the new thematic material” – wrote the researcher V. P. Protopopov. [27, p. 398].
Narrator briefly mentions the decision of St. Joseph to stop for a rest at the oasis; the orchestra part characterizes a state of a godly peace of the “inner patriarch”. In the psychological portrait of St. Joseph Berlioz captures the exhaustion of a middle-aged man, struggling to catch his breath. The clear pauses are the distinct aspects of the musical content of this fragment. [20, p. 97].
Creating the multidimensional characteristics of the image of St. Mary, into the accompanying story by Narrator the composer included an orchestra part that is melodically bright and rich with emotions, based on the modal variability of the Allegretto grazioso theme; the conceptual significance of this theme is substantiated by the composer throughout the second vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo. As mentioned above, this lyrical-dramatic Christian “storge” was conducted in the parts of the violins (beginning of the “The Repose of the Holy Family”). The Allegretto grazioso theme (a-moll with a “diatonic” VII degree “g♮”) copies tenor’s solo part, and then it is conducted in the part of the soloing violins. [20, p. 98-99].
In the closing section of “The Repose of The Holy Family” phrases of the vocal part of the soloing tenor is accompanied only by a group of string instruments with mutes. In the last bars of Narrator’s part intonational “telltale signs” emerge for the first time, indicating a second duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph located in scene 1 of part III (“The Arrival at Sais”). The effect of the maneuver of intonational connections “from a distance” provides symphonic integrity for the musical dramaturgy of the oratorio-trilogy.
Mentioning appearance of the Angels, Narrator’s final solo (sotto voce ) presents a declamational phrase, finished by a pause; singing of one and the same tone (“e ”) is accompanied by pauses in the orchestra part. In the final cadence the group of woodwind instruments (flutes, English horn, and clarinets) forms a choral accompaniment for singing of the Angels (Hallelujah ), which finishes part II. The choral unisons (horizontals of four sopranos and four altos) performing Hallelujah , effectively “unfold”, transforming into a four-voice vertical of the closing choral chord, supported by instruments of the string group pp -perdendo -ppp .
Example 6. Part II. End. Сhorus of invisible Angels. Hallelujah
Part III “The Arrival at Sais”. Composition. Peculiarities of the musical dramaturgy
Beginning with the first vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo (part I), in the succeeding three analogous sections (including Epilogue) Narrator sequentially discovers the relevance of the meaning of the Evangelical story for both, the era that is contemporary to the composer, as well as for the future. Separated from the heroes of the story by the time and culture, Narrator brings together the elements of spatial and time dimensions. Narrator’s part combines the intratextual and extratextual aspects of the story; synthesizing the latter, Narrator discovers the modern meaning behind the events of the Evangelical scene presented in the poetic text of the oeuvre. The creative transformation of the categories of space and time in the oratorio-trilogy allowed the contemporaries to perceive “The Childhood of Christ” as a multidimensional spiritual reality, a relevant oratorio-theatrical concept of the eternity of Christian love.
Part III “The Arrival at Sais” unites four continuous sequential sections: third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo; scene 1 “Within the City of Sais” (duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph); scene 2 “Inside the Ishmaelites' House”; scene 3, representing Epilogue; the latter includes two structural components – the fourth vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part, and the final vocal-symphonic section (Narrator and choir).
Scenes 1 and 2 form the compositional center of part III; the end sections (third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo), and scene 3 (Epilogue) frame the part III of the oratorio-trilogy. If scenes 1 and 2 present cooperation of the lyrical-dramatic and lyrical-psychological spheres of the vocal-symphonic concept, the framing sections are dominated by the lyrical-philosophical narrative sphere of the musical dramaturgy. Expression of emotions is softened by the composer; at the same time, the “lyrical geometry” clearly emerges in the comparison of the three spheres stated above. The core idea of the creative concept is translated by Narrator, whose part in conjunction with the part of the symphonic orchestra forms the lyrical-philosophical, and narrative vocal-symphonic sphere of the oratorio-trilogy.
The final part of the oratorio-trilogy is the result of the storytelling presented as the typology of a path. Progression through the desert led to the change of the physical and psychological state of the travelers, whose goal was to save the life of the Newborn Jesus. The saturation of the musical material of part III with dramatics is substantiated by the transformations of the emotional-psychological state of the heroes. Following the canons of classicism (Gluck, Mozart, Beethoven), Berlioz achieved psychological depth, and composure of the generalized musical-theatrical embodiment of the feelings of the heroes – participants of the act.
In the third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo that opens part III the composer develops the conceptual aspect of the oeuvre, associated with the thought of the highest value of life, at the center of which is Jesus Christ. The Christian understanding of the highest value of life, presented to mankind in New Testament, retained its relevance in the XXI century. The late representative of the Catholic Church Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini in his discussion with an Italian writer Umberto Eco about belief or nonbelief underlined the modern significance for Christianity of the idea that the life of a person is called upon to participate in the life of God himself: “For Christians, respecting human life from its first manifestation is not an amorphous sentiment (you spoke of “personal disposition” and “intellectual persuasion”) but rather the fulfilling of a specific responsibility: that of a physical, living person whose dignity is not determined by a benevolent judgement on my part, or by a humanitarian impulse, but by a divine calling. It is something that is not only “me” or “mine” or even “inside of me”, but before me”. [28, p. 62].
After shedding light on the events from the life of the Newborn Jesus, flight of the Holy Family from Bethlehem into Egypt to avoid persecution, and escaping the demise in a family of Ishmaelites, Narrator mentions Golgotha, where Jesus Christ was raised for the redemption of mankind from their sins: “He was willing to carry out the divine sacrifice… / …And clear the way to its (human race) salvation “. In the Epilogue (part III) the vector of Narrator’s storytelling is changed; the recital of the events of the distant past (the childhood of Jesus Christ) he turns to the context of present and future. The speech of Narrator with the chorus testifies to the link between the past and present. The idea of continuity of time could not be openly stated in the text, presented using the traditional musical-theatrical means. Narrator reminds the audience of the mystery connecting the human soul with God. “O my soul, what can you do now / But quell your pride in the face of such a mystery!” [20, p. 169]. Narrator and chorus transmit the spiritual epistle of Berlioz to his contemporaries: “O my heart, be filled with the solemn, pure love / Which alone can open the way to a heavenly dwelling place”. [20, p. 170-174].
Third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part (Allegro non troppo, gis-mol, `4/4` , fugato)
Fugato in the beginning of part III represents a laconic vocal-symphonic picture, which unfolds the conceptual and psychological implication of the events. The main four-measure theme of the fugato in the marching rhythm with iambic anacrusis and an ascending jump to fourth is given to the group of woodwind instruments (flutes, oboe, English horn, and clarinets in A ). The modal inclination is yet again marked by Berlioz in the score: the “natural” VII degree in minor functions in the beginning of part II as a certain “archaic” element that is analogous to the modal structures of old folk songs, many of which, according to Berlioz, are “lacking the introductory tone” or “have even more unusual scale: the completely lack the IV and VII degrees of our scale”. [9, p. 166].
In the musical-dramaturgy development of this work, the third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part not only precedes the act of scene 1 (duet), but also carries out the function of intonational generalization, symphonization. Maintaining connection “from a distance” with the intonational-thematic elements of previous parts and subsequent sections of part III, the musical material of the third vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo communicates unity to the intonational-thematic development of the oratorio-trilogy. Narrator’s story about the arrival of the Holy Family into a large Egyptian city, where the “citizens knew no compassion”, is embedded into the musical fabric of the intensely developing instrumental-symphonic picture.
Along with the discovery of the emotional-psychological implication of the presented image, Narrator’s solo part transmits the idea of unbreakable connection between the past, present, and future. The orchestra fugato presents a rhythmically modified musical material of the Overture to part II (“The Flight into Egypt”), rendered (`4/4)` in an “expanded” minor mode (gis-moll ) by alternation of the VII “natural” and VII “harmonic” degrees.
The emotionally restrained phrases of declamational nature in Narrator’s part are separated from one another by clear pauses; connected to the declamation of clearly articulate poetic text, the vocal intonation can be characterized as realistic. In a multi-layer symphonic fabric functions of separate timbres are differentiated; the timbre-harmonic complexes participate in the process of the vocal-symphonic development. In the parts of the string instruments we can see highlighting of the rhythmic uniqueness of the viola part, which contains prolonged rhythmic ostinato; this “static” sound phenomenon contrasts the unison relief of the main theme of the fugato, performed by the group of wind instruments. The sudden tonal-harmonic modulation gis-moll `->` Es-dur in the orchestra part underlines the emotional-expressive moment in the part of the soloing tenor, marking the approach of the culmination. On the background of pauses in the orchestra part Narrator intonates a cappella : “It was city <…> full of cruel, haughty-looking people / Hear how the distressing agony was to continue / For these pilgrims seeking shelter and bread!”
The third vocal-symphonic section Allegro non troppo with Narrator’s solo part, opening part III of the oratorio-trilogy, ends with an episode of Allegro, for which it is common to split the musical fabric into emotionally contrasting thematic segments. Tenor part, written in a form of emotionally restrained recitative, is matched by the orchestra part, in which the colorful harmonic verticals with sudden modulations collaborate with the elements of a linear-polyphonic rendition; “dynamic” functionally-harmonic plane is oriented towards the tonal-harmonic construct.
Scene 1 “Within the City of Sais”. Duet
Scene 1 of the symphonic development of the action contains the dramatic culmination of the oratorio-trilogy. The dramaturgical contrast clearly emerges in the dialogue composition of the duet of St. Mary and St. Joseph: the pleading of the Holy Family for shelter alternates with the angry refusals of the people of Sais (first the Romans, then Egyptians). Laconic phrases of St. Mary with the Newborn Jesus in her arms and St. Joseph, exhausted from roaming through the scorching desert and stopping by the houses in hopes of finding shelter, are interrupted by the angry retorts of Romans and Egyptians shutting the doors at the sight of the Holy Family. St. Mary and St. Joseph continue to encounter deaf hearts and closed doors, seeking a place to stay for the night. St. Mary is weakened and weary; her breast has run dry and has no milk. “Right off the beaten track, is a humble roof … / Let us knock again”. [20, p. 120]. Pleading for mercy, St. Mary and St. Joseph knock on the door of a humble house of strangers: “Oh, for pity’s sake, help us! / Let us rest in your house…” The solo lines of mezzo-soprano are duplicated by the part of baritone; the “out of breath” speech of St. Joseph, interrupted by pauses, is accompanied by clear unisons of cellos. The ascending movement of the vocal phrase through the tones of chromatic scale (baritone part) is “accompanied” by the intonation of piteous mourning with descending minor second (oboe).
Angry retorts of the rich citizens (Allegro ) deliver the dramaturgical contrast into the opening lyrical-dramatic section of scene 1. Suddenly cheered accompanied by the staccato in the orchestra part, the descending phrase of men’s chorus with intentionally “unyielding” accented repeat of the closing cadence, clearly outlines the “response” of the uncompassionate Roman residents to the calls for help of the Holy Family. [20, p. 114].
In the second section of scene 1 (c. 57) the mutually complementing phrases of the solo vocal parts intertwine with the clear “commentary” of personified timbre – a soloing oboe, which brings emotionally decorated “strokes” into the musical characteristics of the speech of exhausted St. Joseph. The recurrent plea of the Holy Family for help, turned to Egyptians – wealthy residents – was met with despise and cruelty. The “tossed” phrases of men’s chorus (Allegro , 6 first and 6 second basses) relate abrupt confrontation of the hostile Egyptians. In the orchestra part staccato of string instruments accompanies the harsh phrases: “Get back, vile Hebrews! / The people of Egypt have no use / for vagabonds and lepers”. [20, p. 118].
In the Allegro non troppo section the instrumental ensemble of string instruments prepares the dramatic culmination of part III. [20, p. 119-120]. In the orchestra part Berlioz modified one of those types of sound simulation, which composer referred to as “musical images”. [9, p. 95]. They are the “steps” across the tones of the chromatic scale, unevenly interrupted by alternating anacrusis accents and pauses; creation of expressive sound-illustrating image is also related to the composer’s remark “Silence ”, active through two measures marked by pauses. The instrumental ensemble, which included naturalistic elements of sound simulation, and the subsequent recitative of St. Joseph characterize the physical and psychological state of the heroes: despair of the exhausted Holy Family and the sorrow from the cruel retorts from the citizens of Sais. Ensemble episode, compositional function of which lies in the preparation of the dramatic culmination of the oratorio-trilogy, dynamicizes development of the act. [20, p. 120].
Beginning of the dramatic culmination of the oratorio-trilogy Allegro non troppo coincides with the moment of the entrance of the timpani solo, which underlines the essence of St. Mary’s words: “I am going to faint…” [20, p. 122]. Gathering the remainder of their strength, St. Mary and St. Joseph exclaim: “…Help us! / Let us rest in your house…” Expression of the vocal phrases of mezzo-soprano and the baritone intertwine by the colorfulness of timbres of the woodwind instruments (oboe and bassoon). The pauses in the parts of the soloists function as semantic, structural, and emotional-psychological parameters of the musical fabric.
Example 7. Part III. Duet of Saint Mary and Saint Joseph
Recitative of the soloing baritone (St. Joseph’s part) in the duet is unfolded onto the contrasting-polyphonic background, in which the sound of high wind instruments is coupled with the repeating sound-illustrating rhythmic-intonational complex (“image of steps”) in the instruments of the string group. It continues to associate with the tired steps of the weakened travelers. The figure of silence (pause) is the expressive strokes in the emotional-psychological characteristics of the image of St. Joseph: “It is not necessary for natural sounds to be imitated precisely; it will suffice to just remind of it by two or three strokes” – mentions Berlioz in the essay “On Imitation in Music”, [9, p. 96].
The final bars of the duet are the apogee of the emotional tension of the two main characters in the play. [20, p. 124]. The dramatic culmination of oratorio-trilogy reached the peak of development of the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the tender love of the Holy Family (the Christian “storge”). The method of shifting Attacca towards scene 2 executes the role of the dramaturgical crescendo – the dual maneuver of the musical dramaturgy.
Scene 2 “Inside the Ishmaelites' House”. Trio of two flutes and a harp
In the center of the expanded scene 2 of the core development of the act is a new character of the oratorio-trilogy – the Head of household of an Ishmaelite family, a carpenter, who hospitably opened their home to the persecuted refugees from Judea. The Holy Family was greeted by a friendly and kind family, showing the poor travelers a gesture of sacrificial, elevated love (Christian “agape”). The Ishmaelites provided the Holy Family with shelter and nourishment.
The four solos of Head of the family (bass), separated from each other by the choral phrases of the family members represent a diverse characteristic of the image of the owner of the humble house, who graciously accepted the strangers and made sure that they get water and milk, bread, honey and raisins; the owner turned to St. Joseph with words of respects, provided them with water to wash the battered feet of St. Mary, and prepared a soft bed for the Newborn Jesus. The relatives, servants, and children of the owner readily assisted the Holy Family with the necessary help. The humane attitude and friendly words of the father of the large family showed the strangers from Judea that the Ishmaelite has given shelter to other strangers in the past.
In one of the letters to the Strasbourg composer, critic, and conductor of the oratorio-trilogy François Schwab (1863) Berlioz wrote about the part of the Head of the family: “it is a very important part, to which I want to turn your attention”. [8, p. 183]. The musical characteristic of the Head of the Ishmaelite family is distinct in the deliberateness of the unraveling of the well-practiced and rounded phrases. The vocal intonation is based on a clear poetic declamation. The expressive melodic constructs in the orchestra part complement the emotional-psychological characteristic of the kind owner.
The composer considered it very important to maintaining dynamicity during performance of the Ishmaelites’ chorus placed at the beginning of scene 2. [20, p. 127]. In his letter to François Schwab Berlioz clarified: “The chorus “Wash the wounds on their bruised feet…” must be nuanced as stated in the score, i.e. piano to a minor crescendo, leading to mezzo piano, and finish again with piano”. [8, p. 188].
The second solo of the Head of the Ishmaelite family addressed to St. Joseph contains the reasoning of an Ishmaelite about the coincidence of the carpentry trade of St. Joseph, possibility of working together, and their common ancestors. “The children of Ishmael / And the children of Israel are brothers” – says the Ishmaelite to St. Joseph. The atmosphere of welcoming hospitality in scene 2 is characterized by laconic phrases of the chorus of family members, sharing the emotions of the Head of the family; the Ishmaelites have shown compassion and mercy towards the Holy Family; the godly and moral behavior of the Ishmaelites is contained in these words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7). [16, p. 141].
The lyrical-psychological sphere of the Christian “agape” is presented in the vocal-symphonic development of the subsequent sections of part III. The fourth of the Head of the Ishmaelites’ family carries out a connecting dramaturgical function, being the prelude for beginning of a “small concert” for the guests. Wishing to lift the sorrow and relieve the stress of St. Mary and St. Joseph, the Head of the Ishmaelites’ family proposes that the children pick up musical instruments: two flutes and a Theban harp “To round off this evening properly”. [20, p, 147].
The trio of two flutes and harp – lyrical culmination of the oratorio-trilogy
In accordance with the development of the literary-poetic scene, Berlioz included the “Trio of two flutes and harp” into the dynamic scene 2 of part III performed by young Ishmaelites, thus implementing the theatrical maneuver “scene within a scene”. The concert performance of the ensemble, carrying out the theatrical tasks, represents innovative and “visionary” phenomenon on the work of Berlioz, receiving the genre status of “instrumental theatre” in the XX century.
“This trio must be rehearsed by three separate soloists <…> We need two exceptional flutists and a very good harpist” – wrote Berlioz to Schwab. [8, p. 179].
The trio of two flutes and harp is the lyrical culmination of the oratorio-trilogy, where the lyrical-psychological sphere of the Christian “agape” is placed at the “forefront”. The instrumental Trio introduces “emotional modulation” into development of scene 2, changing the character of the act: the tense dramatics is replaced by the feeling of beauty and peace.
The chamber ensemble, which creates the autonomous sound space in the musical fabric of scene 2, possesses compositional uniformity. The symmetrical form of the Trio, which can be conditionally marked by formula AbC/Db’A’, and consists of six continuously sequential sections varying in magnitude. The introduction (A, opening section, which frames the shape); “melancholic” chords of the harp (b, linking episode, transition to the first lyrical play); lyrical melopoeia of two flutes (C); the second flexible play (D); repetition of the “melancholic” chords of the harp (b’, linking episode, leading to conclusion); repetition of the thematic material of the opening section (A’).
The atmosphere of a home concert, which brought tears in the eyes of St. Mary touched by the kids’ performance, was finely recreated by Berlioz’s biographer Adolphe Boschot, who noted the lyricism of the “love melopoeia dissolving in the night”. [19, p. 317]. Scene 2 presents the vocal-symphonic cooperation of the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the Christian “strorge” and lyrical-psychological Christian “agape”; expansion of the latter takes place in the sections following the Trio: solo of the Head of the family, and the closing scene 2 Ishmaelites’ chorus, following the laconic remarks of the grateful guests.
The musical characteristics of the images of the Head of the Ishmaelites’ family and the family members are demonstrated by the composer in the progression. The Ishmaelites’ family circle and community of Bethlehem shepherds reflect the peace of ancient Christianity in Berlioz’s oratorio-trilogy.
When the tools are stowed in their place,
And the work is done for the day,
When from Carmel to Jordan Israel sleeps,
In the wheat field in the night,
Then St. Joseph, finding it too dark to read,
Would call out to God with a great sigh,
And God would answer him.
Paul Claudel. “Saint Joseph”. [1, p. 19-20].
Scene 3 (Epilogue). Fourth vocal-symphonic section with Narrator’s solo part
The Epilogue of the oratorio-trilogy is the result of the development of the vocal-symphonic concept of eternity of Christian love; event of the past, present, and future are presented by Berlioz as a space-time continuum: “Resurrection of Jesus is one of the might phenomena with which God proclaimed His plan for salvation of mankind”. [14, p. 34].
The narrative and lyrical-philosophical sphere of the musical dramaturgy of the oratorio-trilogy with Narrator at its center, contains two semantic levels that comprise a certain conceptual whole: historical-time, storytelling (1) and contemporary level / timeless (2). The latter reveals the main idea of the eternity of Christian love in Berlioz’s creative concept. The historical-time and storytelling level of the content is presented in the process of advancement of the musical dramaturgy throughout the development of the act from scene 1 (part I) to scene 2 (part III). The contemporary / timeless level of the content is revealed by Berlioz beyond the framework of the storyline, in scene 3 (Epilogue).
In the fourth vocal-symphonic section the tenor solo (Narrator) completes the historical storyline: “And thus it was that by an infidel / The Savior was saved <…> And eventually, having returned / To the place of His birth / He was willing to carry out the divine sacrifice / Which would redeem the human race / From eternal torture / And clear the way to its salvation”.
Example 8. Epilogue (Beginning)
The character of the solo recitative of Narrator in the Epilogue is maintained in the style that corresponds with the perception about the sacred space of the mystery play, image of quietness, inherent to the first vocal-symphonic episode with Narrator’s solo (part I). In the beginning of the Epilogue (Lento, , piano ) the emotionally restrained recitative of the tenor is presented on the background of prolonged tones (lines) in the parts of string and wind instruments, which form the thematic segments of the orchestra vertical. The chorus joins Narrator’s storytelling in the middle vocal-symphonic section of the Epilogue, in which the “plane of the act” is turned towards the present and future: “O my heart, be filled with that solemn, pure love / Which alone can open the way to a heavenly dwelling place…”
Abundance of pauses in the part of the orchestra and dynamic marking of perdendo create the space of a mystery: the soul turns to God. The lyrical-philosophical center of the Epilogue is concentrated in the section Andantino misto . The chorus parts, which repeat the final verse after Narrator, are dominated by polyphonic voice leading.
Example 9. Epilogue. Narrator’s solo part
In the Epilogue of the oratorio-trilogy Narrator completes the story of the mystery play about the spiritual dialogue between the Angels and the Holy Family, and the sacrament of Christmas; the soloists and chorus presented the conclusion of the vocal-symphonic concept. The idea of eternity of Christian love is interpreted by Berlioz in the dimension of the soul of a modern man, who can turn away from God; yet God never turns away from mankind.
In the process of the storytelling the composer reveals the psychological image of Narrator, and his classicistic restrained attitude towards the recited events. Focusing the interest of the audience on one or another fragment of the story, Berlioz leads the listeners towards understanding of the fact that Narrator is a modern day hero; he is a man who has substantial reasons to remind his contemporaries that relationship between the human soul and God is a mystery. The perception of this psychological phenomenon is systematically formed by Berlioz in the process of development of the vocal-symphonic concept. The multidimensionality of Berlioz’s polyphonic thinking is evident in the fusion of the time dimensions (past, present, and future) on a level of musical dramaturgy, in the skillful application of “emotional contrast in simultaneity”, and the contrasting polyphonic tactics of developing the vocal-symphonic musical fabric.
The Epilogue completes the process of cooperation of five main spheres of musical dramaturgy of the oratorio-trilogy: the lyrical-dramatic sphere of the Christian “storge” (tender love of the Holy Family); lyrical-psychological sphere of the Christian “agape” (spiritually elevated love for “your neighbor” – spiritual holiness of the Bethlehem shepherds, and godly love and compassion of the Ishmaelites’ family towards the Holy Family); mysterious sphere of the “Heavenly host” and narrative, lyrical-philosophical sphere, at the center of which is Narrator. The polyphonic cooperation between the “planes of action” and symphonic development of intonational elements of said spheres lie in the foundation of the development of the vocal-symphonic concept of the eternity of Christian love. In the final bars of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” (Epilogue) the autonomous layers of the vocal polyphony form the eight-voice female chorus a cappella , set behind the stage, and the solo part of the tenor. The composer noted the need for an even performance of the diminuendo in transition from piano to pppp in all voices; in the score Berlioz placed a remark, which instructs the chorus on “chain breathing” in order to maintain continuous sound in repetition of the final word in the chorus of invisible Angels: amen – “so be it”.
Example 10. Epilogue. Narrator and chorus of invisible Angels. Amen
Thus the specificity of composer’s individual understanding of the psychological mystery of relationship between the human soul and God are reflected in the deep structure of the oeuvre. Berlioz’s oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” represents a great example, a creative canon for the French composers of the XIX-XX centuries, who created oratorio-trilogy works and grand forms of vocal-symphonic and instrumental music based on the synthesis of arts and genre elements; among them are oratorios of Charles-François Gounod, the “sacred drama” of “Marie-Magdeleine” and the miracle-opera “Le jongleur de Notre-Dame” by Jules Massenet, the oratorio “Les Béatitudes” and “La Rédemption” by César Franck, mystery play “Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien” by Claude Debussy, oratorio “La légende de Saint Christophe” by Vincent d'Indy, oratorio “Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher ” by Arthur Honegger, Francis Poulenc’s opera “Dialogues des carmelites”, “Trois petites liturgies de la présence divine” and miracle-opera “Saint François d'Assise” by Olivier Messiaen, and others. Perception of the oratorio-trilogy “The Childhood of Christ” by Hector Berlioz as a concept of eternity of Christian love that is still relevant for the modern Christian world leads to a change in the outlook on the life and creative heritage of the composer.
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