Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Berlioz, Nuits d'été. Janet Baker.n°5. Au cimetière.

Text: Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier (1811-1872)

Au cimetière/
At the cemetery

Do you know the white tomb
Where floats with plaintive sound,
The shadow of a yew?
On the yew a pale dove,
Sad and alone under the setting sun,
Sings its song:

An air sickly tender,
At the same time charming and ominous,
Which makes you feel agony
Yet which you wish to hear always;
An air like a sigh from the heavens
of a love-lorn angel.

One would say that an awakened soul
Is weeping under the earth in unison
With this song,
And from the misfortune of being forgotten,
Moans its sorrow in a cooing
Quite soft.

On the wings of the music
One feels the slow return
Of a memory.
A shadow, a form angelic,
Passes in a trembling ray of light,
In a white veil.

The beautiful flowers of the night, half-closed,
Send their perfume, faint and sweet,
Around you,
And the phantom of soft form
Murmurs, reaching to you her arms:
You will return!

Oh! never again near the tomb
Shall I go, when night lets fall
Its black mantle,
To hear the pale dove
Sing on the limb of the yew
Its plaintive song!


  1. The line "Send their perfume, faint and sweet" has now reminded me of Baudelaire's use of fragrances and smells to invoke feelings and emotions of nostalgia, of course there are many examples of nostalgia in the poetry. I also thought the forward motion at about 3:45 was very engaging and (if there exists such a thing) the following almost "tempo subito". It made more sense in my head...

  2. What an interesting harmonic progression in this piece. I love how Janet Baker is able to make her voice just "emerge" from the orchestral texture at the beginnings of some phrases (specifically "Un air maladivement tendre...").

  3. My favorite part of this movement has to be the strophe "On the wings of music". Berlioz gives the line a clear sense of wanting to soar, while being pulled down to earth, back to reality by bitter memory. The vocal line is so declamatory and determined, dancing with the orchestra at "un souvenir" - then fighting it's sounds as the speaker is pulled back down to darker places via descending chromaticism.

  4. Berlioz truly captures the atmosphere of the cemetery and Gautier's words. The violins shift from sad, quiet to unsettling. It seemed like they represented the weeping awakened soul. Baker's expression continues to amaze me. There is such intensity as she repeats "you will return". If only we could experience this performance live!

  5. This poem has some intense imagery, like the bit about the "phantom of soft form." Her diction is so precise, and she uses it so well to her advantage when she wants to express different emotions. I like the musical imagery that takes place in the orchestra during the stanza with the "trembling ray of light."

  6. I could be totally wrong on this, but isn't this the same poem that Duparc uses for his Lamento? It's interesting to listen to the Berlioz, and then go listen to the Duparc version. Berlioz definitely gets more into the spirit of lost love and the spirit world. For whatever reason, Duparc emitted the second, fourth, and fifth stanzas of the poem (all the references to love and memory); this makes his interpretation more about grief and even fear. The music of the two pieces therefore takes on different personalities. Berlioz's version mixes longing and memories with the divine; Duparc's is almost creepy; the first two lines are so plaintive, and then all of a sudden, when the poets says "Never more near the tomb shall I go," it becomes more agitated, and sounds almost frightened. What happened to make the person want to book it so fast from the tomb?
    Both Berlioz's and Duparc's versions of this poem are so different, yet both so expressive and beautiful!

  7. WAH! The imagery is out of this world. I love how this piece opens and how Janet Baker sings it sort of talky talk if that makes sense. It is a great platform from which to jump beyond itself. I also love that you can hear the white dove through out the entire piece with it's wings ready to take flight. There is, however, this ever present apprehension that it just can't quite make it off the ground because of "souvenirs" from the past

  8. This piece was one of my favorites of the set partly due to her use of color. I thought that she used her voice to paint a picture of the text in a more evocative way than in previous songs. The power and thrilling sound were by no means absent but a greater sensitivity to color and a more daring range of vibrato choices made it that much more captivating.

  9. I find the harmony very interesting and it provides a lot of colors to the song! I also like the orchestra part as it helps conveying the text through harmonies, figurations and timbre.

  10. This song has such a beautiful range of emotion. I love the way Baker uses her tone and the text to really take us on the journey of the poem.

  11. I like how the music changes with each stanza. Particularly when the winding melody when she sings of "An air sickly tender, At the same time charming and ominous."

  12. I love Baker's use of color in this piece! She really takes time to make decisions and choices, something we as singers sometimes forget that we are allowed.

  13. Something that I realized from listening to this movement and the past movements is that Berlioz does not have very expansive preludes that usher the singer in. I also noticed some surprises in harmony in this movement.

  14. I am inappropriately excited about the text of this piece. Gautier perfectly captures the feeling of an "other" that you get in a graveyard. It's not a scary feeling, but it feels like you are unknowingly standing at the precipice of another world. The phrase "charming and ominous" is particularly apt.

    I am a huge fan of all the descending movement in the music, it makes me think of slowly sinking into a grave. I particularly like how Berlioz set the last few lines of text. The singer talks about never returning to the graveyard, which implies a degree of escape, but Berlioz uses a dissonant flat six in the last few measures of the piece, implying that while the singer might physically get away from the graveyard, it will always be a weight on their soul and will always have a pull on their consciousness.

  15. This song strikes me as more forward thinking in its use of harmony and chromaticsim. I love the lyricism of these songs, and Berlioz was obviously so inventive with his color choices and orchestration...listening back they seem beautiful, yet he opened a floodgate for Mahler and Strauss to explore even further.

  16. The poetry of this piece is a perfect example, to me, of the atmospheric/impressionistic quality found in much of French poetry. The way in which Berlioz musically depicts this walk through the graveyard and passing by the tombstones mirrors the fluidity and ambiguous qualities that are present in the text. The textural/tempo change in the B section was a stunning effect as well, as the poetic persona is transported by the song the dove sings.

  17. She manages this high tessitura so well. They way Berlioz sets this text seems so different than how the Germans would have set a similar text (ex: Auf dem Kirchhofe) The scoring really highlights certain aspects of the text, especially the themes of light and color.