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ClassicsOnline Home » RABAUD: Orchestral Works
Henri Rabaud (1873-1949)
Danses de Mârouf (Mârouf Dances)
La procession nocturne, Op. 6 (Night
Suite anglaise No. 2 (English Suite No. 2)
Suite anglaise No. 3 (English Suite No. 3)
Divertissement sur des chansons russes, Op.
2 (Divertissement on Russian Songs)
In 1873, still suffering from the shock of
defeat by Germany and of the
Commune, France began little by little to recover. The Empire had given way to
a Republic that was not without its paradoxes. On 24th May the Assembly thanked
Thiers and then elected Marshal MacMahon, whose monarchist sympathies were well
known, as head of state.
Intellectual and artistic life too no
longer dwelt under the traumatic shadow of Sedan. In the field of music there had just been a notable initiative in
the foundation by artists such as Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck and Romain Bussine,
of the Société Nationale de Musique, established on 17th November 1871. Under
the motto Ars Gallica this last greatly assisted the growth of the golden age
that then opened for French music.
It was in this transitional period that
Henri Rabaud was born in Paris, on 10th November. It is difficult to imagine an
environment better suited to the development of the child's musical gifts. He
was the grandson of the flautist Louis Doris, the great-nephew of the soprano Dorus-Gras,
creator of many rôles in the operas of Meyerbeer and Halévy, and the son of a
well known cellist, a member of the Société des Concerts, Hippolyte Rabaud. His
mother had been chosen by Gounod for the part of Marguerite at the first
performance of his opera Faust on 19th March 1859.
From his earliest years Henri Rabaud found
himself in a musical world dominated by the great classical composers. Often at
home friends joined his father to play the trios and quartets of Mozart, Haydn
or Beethoven. As a child he made a study of these works and by his own efforts
acquired a very solid foundation in the theory of music. Attachment to the old
masters, independence of spirit and a great mistrust of modernism were always
to characterize his work. His study at the Conservatoire was a pure formality,
since his teachers, Massenet, Taudou and Gédalge had little to give to a young
man already provided with a solid technical foundation, crowned by the award of
the Prix de Rome in 1894.
At the age of twenty-one Henri Rabaud
discovered Italy, Verdi and Puccini, but it was Virgil who inspired his first
orchestral work, Eglogue. This musical commentary on the First Eclogue
makes clear the artistic achievement of a young composer, who here offers a
score of great freshness. The final answer of Tityrus to Melibeus, forced into
exile, gives a good idea of the mood of the work:
Here at least
you could have rested with me, this night on green leaves; we have ripe fruits,
soft chestnuts and fresh cheese a-plenty. Already down there the roof-tops of
the farms smoke and the shadows, falling from the mountain heights, grow
At the end of the nineteenth century Wagner
inspired a number of followers in France. Each year this country provided the
most important group of foreign pilgrims to the Bayreuth Festival. On the list
of 1896, for example, we find, by the side of Alfred Cortot and his friend Edouard
Risler, the name of Henri Rabaud, Prix de Rome, Paris. As for Vincent d'Indy a
few years earlier, the discovery of the tetralogy of The Ring on the sacred
mountain and, in general, contact with the world of German romanticism had a
not inconsiderable influence on Rabaud. This was expressed in 1897 with the Procession
Nocturne, Opus 6. This Symphonic Poem after Lenau, dedicated to Edouard Colonne,
is one of the composer's finest orchestral works. It was inspired by an episode
in Lenau's Faust, in the translation by V. Descreux.
Faust, filled with sad despair, wanders in
the forest. The night is dense, but the troubled breath of spring blows sweetly
in the wood, giving warmth and life. The sadness of the hero, insensible to the
wonderful feelings of the voices of spring, is expressed in a first episode in
F minor, Andante tranquillo, which starts pianissimo with a solo French horn,
then a clarinet, over the soft roll of the bass drum, played with timpani
sticks, and of muted violins.
What is this brightness that lights up the
forest there, turning purple the foliage and sky with its flames? Whence come
the gentle sounds of sacred melodies that seem made to give consolation for all
earthly sorrows? ... Faust stops his horse ... A solemn procession approaches ¡K
It is the Feast of St. John.
In the course of a second episode in C
major, where wind instruments play a key part, supported only by cellos and
double basses, the composer suggests first of all the approach of the
procession by a very gradual crescendo that culminates in a forte, then its
departure into the distance with a very gradual diminuendo, as the sound
finally dies away.
In the third section of the work, Molto più
lento, the initial tonality of F minor re-appears: Faust remains alone,
standing in the darkness. He grasps hold of his faithful horse and hiding his
face in the animal's mane weeps burning tears, the bitterest that he has ever
shed ¡K Again the composer makes full use of his command of orchestration with a
sense of colour and a subtlety that compels admiration.
When Henri Rabaud wrote his Divertissement
sur des chansons russes in 1899, Russian music was very much appreciated in
Paris. In addition to the works of Tchaikovsky, since the Paris World
Exhibition of 1889 there had been music by the Five. There is no need to
overload this attractive work with useless commentary. We may see here rather a
wink of the eye, amused and indulgent, from a French musician at the public
vogue for music of supposed peasant origin with its colourful orchestration and
references to the music of the people.
Apart from these fine pages of orchestral
writing, the growing reputation that Rabaud enjoyed at the beginning of the
twentieth century relied for a great part on his activity as a composer for the
theatre. In 1904 he completed his first dramatic work, La Fille de Roland (The
Daughter of Roland), with a libretto by Ferrari based on the work of H. de Bornier,
acclaimed by music-lovers. His great operatic success, however, came in 1914
with Mârouf, Savetier du Caire (Mârouf, Cobbler of Cairo). This work in
five acts, with a libretto by Lucien Népoty inspired by the Arabian Nights,
received an enthusiastic welcome when it was first performed at the Opéra Comique
under the direction of Ruhiman.
Mârouf has now disappeared from the stage,
but it is remembered thanks to the Dances. These are taken from the second
scene of the third act, with Mârouf, the Sultan and the Vizier, and the
appearance of the Princess. To understand music of this kind we should relate
it to the taste for musical exoticism that had arisen in the middle of the
preceding century. After Félicien David's Le Désert, Charles Gounod's La
Reine de Saba (The Queen of Sheba) or Georges Bizet's Djamileh, Henri
Rabaud knew how to bewitch his public with powerfully evocative music that,
nevertheless, lacks vulgarity and, as Gustave Samazeuilh notes, combines, with
a very French sense of moderation and good taste, classical tradition and
In 1917 Rabaud embarked on a new
collaboration with Lucien Népoty, now for the dramatic stage. The latter had
made an adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and suggested
that Rabaud should write musical entr'actes. The composer accepted, but rather
than write a completely new score, he adapted for orchestra music from the
English virginalists of the sixteenth century, William Byrd, Giles Farnaby and
anonymous composers of the period. Realised with great refinement and
intelligence in the use of instrumental colours, these transcriptions were
later regrouped into Suite anglaises, of which two are here included.
The Suite No. 2 in B flat major is made up
of an Allegra (Williarn Byrd), an Andante (anonymous) and an Allegro
maestoso (anonymous). In G major, the Suite No. 3 is in five movements, Maestoso
(anonymous), Moderato (Giles Famaby), Allegro (Farnaby), Andante
(anonymous) and Maestoso (anonymous). Whatever purists may now
think, Henri Rabaud, in his own time, afters a rare example of curiosity about
a repertoire that many of his contemporaries either did not know or despised.
A Member of the Institut since 1910, Rabaud
succeeded Fauré as director of the Conservatoire in 1920. By then his name was
known on the other side of the Atlantic, where he had conducted the Boston
Symphony Orchestra two years before.
Attracted by a seventh art still in its
infancy, Henri Rabaud collaborated with the director Raymond Bernard in 1924-25
with music far the Miracle des Loup and Joueur d'Echecs (Chess-Player),
the first original music written far silent films.
In 1928the Paris Opéra staged Mârauf again
and, probably stimulated by this public success, Rabaud turned his attention to
a lighter work, Rolande et Je Mauvais Garcon (Rolande and the Bad Bay),
completed in 1933 and staged at the Palais Garnier in 1937.
After a tour of South America as a
conductor the following year, Henri Rabaud returned to France. During the
second world war he became a member of the Executive Board the Comité
Professional de l'Art Musical, established in 1943 by Alfred Cortot, with Germaine
Lubin, Jacques Thibaud and Marguerite Long, and took Albert Wolft's place as
director of the Pasdeloup Orchestra. He died an 11th September 1949 at the age
of seventy-six, while still working on his last opera, Le Jeu de l'Amour et
du Hasard (The Game of Lave and Fortune).
We may leave René Dumesnil, a keen observer
of French musical life, to have the last word: Everything is choice, and very
judicious, with Henri Rabaud, and no-one was ever more severe with himself than
this composer, whose power of invention seems so spontaneous and who expresses
himself with such facility.
transation by Keith Anderson)
The Rheinland-Pfalz Philharmonic was
founded in 1919 and is based in Ludwigshafen. Principal conductors have included
Christoph Eschenbach, Leif Segerstam and, in 1991, Franz Welser-Möst, and guest
conductors and soloists with the orchestra have included musicians of the
greatest distinction, from Furtwängler and Richard Strauss onwards. The
100-strong orchestra has toured widely throughout Europe, with regular
performances in Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Cologne and many other cities and
frequent recordings, broadcasts and appearances on television.
Leif Segerstam was born in 1944 in the
historic Finnish town of Vaasa and studied at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki,
winning the Mai Lind piano competition in 1962, the year of his début as a
violinist. After two years' study of the violin and of conducting at the Juilliard
School of Music in New York, he returned to Finland, conducting for three
seasons the Finnish National Opera before his appointment as conductor at the
Stockholm Royal Opera, of which he became Musical Director in 1971. He has
since then pursued a busy and distinguished career as a conductor and has been
chief conductor of the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1989.
Other engagements have included guest appearances at the Metropolitan Opera in
New York, the Royal Opera Hause, Covent Garden, La Scala, Milan, the Teatro
Colon and the Vienna State Opera. Leif Segerstam also enjoys a reputation as a
composer, his works including same seventeen symphonies and 26 string quartets.
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RABAUD: Orchestral Works