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ClassicsOnline Home » TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / GOUNOD, C.-F.: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts) (Fenn, Manton, Hilgenberg, Waxman) (1953) (Franz Waxman Conducts, Vol. 2)
The story of Romeo and Juliet has long been an inspiration for composers, and this programme provides an opportunity to compare two 19th-century masters’ musical visions of the famous parting scene, Act III, Scene V of Shakespeare’s play. Left unfinished at his death, Tchaikovsky’s composition uses themes from his renowned Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia, giving the singers some of the most beautiful and impassioned moments in all music. Gounod’s opera has a wealth of marvellous duets, Act IV moving from a song of love to those achingly tragic final scenes. Although remembered manly for his film scores, Franz Waxman conducted standard programmes of symphonic music in America, Europe, Israel and Russia, and made recordings with outstanding soloists such as Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern and the three American singers heard on this reissue.
Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893) • Charles Gounod (1818–1893)
Love Duets from Romeo and Juliet
The story of Romeo and Juliet, best known from the play by Shakespeare, has served as an inspiration to composers from the nineteenth century to the present, from Bellini, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky and Gounod to Prokofiev and Bernstein. For his tale of the feuding families of the Montagues and Capulets in Verona to the love of Romeo, a Montague, for the Capulet daughter, Juliet, and its tragic outcome, Shakespeare drew on earlier sources, but it is above all in his play that the tragic story of love and separation is known.
The present recording presents two versions of part of Act III, Scene 5, of Shakespeare’s play, set in Juliet’s bedchamber, where the lovers, newly married, spend their only night together. The Gounod setting is taken from the fourth act of his opera Roméo et Juliette, while the Tchaikovsky-Taneyev work is a duet written as an independent composition and includes the interruption of the scene by the Nurse, a mezzo-soprano, bringing news of the approach of Juliet’s mother.
Sergey Taneyev was a close friend of Tchaikovsky and distinguished as a composer and as a teacher. In addition to the present work he also completed the Andante and Finale of Tchaikovsky’s unfinished Piano Concerto, Op 79. The Love Duet from Romeo and Juliet was published by Taneyev in 1894, based on sketches made by Tchaikovsky between 1878 and 1881, when he was contemplating the composition of an opera on the subject. In the former year he had written to Nadezhda von Meck, his unseen patroness, suggesting that he write an opera on Shakespeare’s play, without any of the changes made by Berlioz and Gounod, and a few years later he returned to the project, in a letter to his brother Modest. The score indicates the parts of the composition that can be attributed to Tchaikovsky or to Taneyev. The orchestral introduction was constructed from themes from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasia, here extended by Franz Waxman’s addition of the opening to the Overture-Fantasia, followed by Taneyev’s own introduction. Tchaikovsky’s sketches begin 29 bars before the first entrance of the soprano voice. Here Tchaikovsky had written out the vocal parts, based on a libretto by Alexander Sokolovsky freely adapted from the Shakespearean tragedy, but had left out a part of the accompaniment. The closing bars of this composition did not appear in Tchaikovsky’s sketches, but were taken by Taneyev from the Overture-Fantasia already mentioned.
The opera Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod was first staged at the Paris Théâtre Lyrique in April 1867, with a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré based on Shakespeare’s play. It won immediate success and was also staged widely abroad. The excerpt included here appears in Act IV of the opera and opens with an instrumental introduction in which four cellos suggest the happiness of the newly married couple, now together for the first and last time in a night of love. In a recitative Juliet forgives Romeo for killing her kinsman Tybalt, whose aim had been to kill Romeo. In the following Andante they sing of their love in Nuit d’hyménée, breaking off as Romeo hears the lark, the sign of approaching day, but Juliet assures him that it is the nightingale. Romeo resolves to risk staying. They embrace, but eventually Juliet admits that it is the day, which Romeo denies. Finally, however, they must part, and, as Romeo makes his escape, Juliet bids him farewell.
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TCHAIKOVSKY, P.I. / GOUNOD, C.-F.: Romeo and Julie...