JULES MASSENET.- EL CID – Ballet
Méditation is a symphonic intermezzo from the opera Thaïs by French composer Jules Massenet. The piece is written for solo violin and orchestra. The opera was first premiered at the Opéra Garnier in Paris on March 16, 1894.
The Méditation is a symphonic entr’acte performed between the scenes of Act II in the opera Thaïs. In the first scene of Act II, Athanaël, a Cenobite monk, confronts Thaïs, a beautiful and hedonistic courtesan and devotée of Venus, and attempts to convince her to leave her life of luxury and pleasure and find salvation through God. It is during a time of reflection following the encounter that the Méditation is played by the orchestra. In the second scene of Act II, following the Méditation, Thaïs tells Athanaël that she will follow him to the desert.
The piece is in D major and is approximately five minutes long (although there are a number of interpretations that stretch the piece to over six minutes). Massenet may also have written the piece with religious intentions; the tempo marking is Andante Religioso, signifying his intention that it should be played religiously and at walking tempo. The piece opens with a short introduction by the harps, with the solo violin quickly entering with the motif. After the violin plays the melody twice, the piece goes into a section marked animato, gradually becoming more and more passionate (Massenet wrote poco a poco appassionato). The climax is reached at a place marked poco piu appassionato (a little more passion) and is then followed by a short cadenza-like passage from the soloist and returns to the main theme. After the theme is played twice, the soloist joins the orchestra while playing harmonics on the upper register as the harps and strings quietly play below the solo line.
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet (French: [ʒyl emil fʁedeʁik masnɛ]; 12 May 1842 – 13 August 1912) was a French composer best known for his operas. His compositions were very popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and he ranks as one of the greatest melodists of his era. Soon after his death, Massenet’s style went out of fashion, and many of his operas fell into almost total oblivion. Apart from Manon and Werther, his works were rarely performed. However, since the mid-1970s, many operas of his such as Thaïs and Esclarmonde have undergone periodic revivals.
Massenet was born in Montaud, then an outlying hamlet and now a part of the city of Saint-Étienne, in the Loire. When he was six, his family moved to Paris due to his father’s ill-health. There his mother (Adélaïde Massenet, née Royer; her husband’s second wife) started taking piano pupils. She also taught Jules so well that at the age of 11 he became a pupil of Adolphe-François Laurent (piano), Henri Reber (harmony) and Ambroise Thomas (counterpoint) at the Conservatoire de Paris.[
Ernest Chausson was born in Paris into a prosperous bourgeois family. His father made his fortune assisting Baron Haussmann in the redevelopment of Paris in the 1850s. To please his father, Chausson studied law and was appointed a barrister for the Court of Appeals, but had little or no interest in the profession. He frequented the Paris salons, where he met celebrities such as Henri Fantin-Latour, Odilon Redon, and Vincent d’Indy.
Before deciding on a musical career, he dabbled in writing and drawing.
In October 1879, at the age of 25, he began attending the composition classes of the opera composer Jules Massenet at the Paris Conservatoire; Massenet came to regard him as ‘an exceptional person and a true artist’. Chausson had already composed some piano pieces and songs. Nevertheless, the earliest manuscripts that have been preserved are those corrected by Massenet. At the Paris Conservatoire, Chausson also studied with César Franck. Chausson interrupted his studies in 1881, after a failed attempt to win the Prix de Rome.  During 1882 and 1883, Chausson, who enjoyed travel, visited Bayreuth to hear the operas of Wagner. On the first of these journeys, Chausson went with d’Indy for the premiere of Wagner’s Parsifal, and on the second trip he went with his new spouse Jeanne Escudier (1862-1936), with whom he was to have five children.
From 1886 until his death in 1899, Chausson was secretary of the Société Nationale de Musique. In his own home (22 Boulevard de Courcelles, near Parc Monceau), he received a great many eminent artists, including the composers Henri Duparc, Gabriel Fauré, Claude Debussy, and Isaac Albéniz, the poet Mallarmé, the Russian novelist Turgenev, and the impressionist painter Monet. Chausson also assembled an important collection of paintings
When only 44 years old,
Chausson died while staying at one of his country retreats, the Château de Mioussets, in Limay, Yvelines. Riding his bicycle downhill, Chausson hit a brick wall and died instantly. The exact circumstances remain unclear; although apparently a freak accident, there has been the suggestion of suicide, as Chausson had been suffering from depression for some time. This suicide theory was propounded by Debussy’s biographer Edward Lockspeiser, but has been firmly rejected more recently by Chausson’s own biographer Ralph Scott Grover.
Chausson was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, his funeral attended by many leading figures of the arts, including Duparc, Fauré, Albeniz, Redon, Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin, Henri de Régnier, Pierre Louÿs, and Debussy, although his friendship with Debussy had ended abruptly five years earlier following his disapproval of Debussy’s promiscuity.
A small park, Square Ernest Chausson, in the 17th arrondissement of Paris is named in his honour.
The creative work of Chausson is commonly divided into three periods. In the first, which was dominated by Massenet, the composer exhibits primarily fluid and elegant melodies. The second period, dating from 1886, is marked by a more dramatic character, deriving partly from Chausson’s contacts with the artistic milieux in which he moved. From his father’s death in 1894 dates the beginning of his third period, during which he was especially influenced by his reading of the symbolist poets and Russian literature, particularly Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy.
Chausson’s work is deeply individual, but it does reflect some technical influences of both Wagner and his other musical hero Franck. Stylistic traces of Massenet and even Brahms can be detected sometimes. In general, Chausson’s compositional idiom bridges the gap between the ripe Romanticism of Massenet and Franck and the more introverted Impressionism of Debussy.
Several delicate and admirable songs came from Chausson’s pen. He completed one opera, Le roi Arthus (King Arthur). His orchestral output was small, but significant. It includes the symphonic poem Viviane; the Symphony in B-flat, his sole symphony; Poème for violin and orchestra, an important piece in the violin repertoire; and the dramatic, and haunting, song-cycle Poème de l’amour et de la mer.
Chausson is believed to be the first composer to use the celesta. He employed that instrument in December 1888 in his incidental music, written for a small orchestra, for La tempête, a French translation by Maurice Bouchor of Shakespeare‘s The Tempest.
Not at all prolific, Chausson left behind only 39 opus-numbered pieces. Musical creation for him always proved to be a long, painful struggle. However, the quality and originality of his compositions are consistently high, and they continue to make occasional appearances on programs of leading singers, chamber music ensembles and orchestras.
“There are moments when I feel myself driven by a kind of feverish instinct, as if I had the presentiment of being unable to attain my goal, or of attaining it too late.” Ernest Chausson
Nigel Kennedy (vln)
Richard Bonynge (cond)
Decca Records 1984
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra
Jules Massenet 1842 – 1912 …….. Massenet took a break from his composing to serve as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War, but returned to his art following the end of the conflict in 1871. From 1878 he worked as professor of composition at the Paris Conservatory where his pupils included André Bloch, Gustave Charpentier, Ernest Chausson, Reynaldo Hahn, Georges Enesco, and Charles Koechlin. His greatest successes were Manon in 1884, Werther in 1892, and Thaïs in 1894. Notable later operas were Le jongleur de Notre-Dame, produced in 1902, and Don Quichotte, produced in Monte Carlo 1910, with the legendary Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin in the title-role.
This is a live performance of Jules Massenet‘s Seven Dances from the second act of his opera “Le Cid” by the Victoria Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Music Director Darryl One. This performance took place at the Victoria Fine Arts Center on October 15, 2011.