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Les Illuminations Op.18 to texts by Arthur Rimbaud

Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)

Claire Booth (photo credit: Sven Arnstein)

Claire Booth (photo credit: Sven Arnstein)

Composer
Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Composition Year
1939
Work Movements
1. Fanfare
2. Villes
3a. Phrase
3b. Antique
4. Royauté
5. Marine
6. Interlude
7. Being Beauteous
8. Parade
9. Départ
Artists
Pekka Kuusisto [violin], Irish Chamber Orchestra, Claire Booth [soprano]

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

The sheer audacity of this work is stunning. The opening Fanfare is electrifying, instinctively you look for the trumpets and piccolos and drums, then the soprano’s entry with the motif cry redoubles the intensity and the shock, leading to the climactic sauvage, instantly calmed by the solo violin. This is a visionary work, the composer seizes and mutilates the poet’s crazed illuminations and creates a terrifying and chaotic vision for which only the composer holds the key.

Rimbaud’s prose-poem is hallucinatory and dream-like, bordering on the incomprehensible. He uses words not for their literal meaning but for their evocative quality. This is quickly apparent in the Cities section, where the text is wild, at times surreal, if indeed you can follow it all. The challenge for the singer must be immense, for the audience the recurring cry Ce sont des villes! is perhaps the only signpost in this urban nightmare, which is mirrored in an even more violent form  in the eighth section Parade. But the sheer energy and excitement of Villes is exceptional – Les sauvages dansent sans cesse la fête de la nuit!

In between we have an extended love-poem. We are hurled from the violent to the exquisite in the high-wire act of the third section Phrase, threading gold chains from star to star, closing with the soprano’s impossible, climactic et je danse. From the heights the music descends to the purely physical, the details of the beloved’s body Gracieux fils de Pan, but what sensual music they create. Royauté is another form of the fanfare idea, a visionary couple announcing with trumpets and drums that they were to become king and queen for the day, while Marine is an ecstatic vision of seascapes, the music as crazed and inventive as the poet’s imagery.

The second half opens with a new more sombre assertion of the opening J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage, the singer this time accompanied by the solo violin, the great cry reduced almost to uncertainty. The Being Beauteous poem returns to the Son of Pan from Antique, this time the lover is un Être de Beauté, the vivid imagery lovingly enunciated by the soprano to cool restraint in the strings. There is no restraint when the city returns parading all its most violent inhabitants in a parade that only the poet-composer can control.

All visions come to an end – Seen enough, had enough, known enough. The singer gradually takes her leave, guiding us to the Exit, go seek new love and new sounds and new visions.

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Les Illuminations Op.18 to texts by Arthur Rimbaud

Composer: Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Performance date: Sunday 30th June 2013
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Benjamin Britten (b. 1913 - d. 1976)
Work Title Les Illuminations Op.18 to texts by Arthur Rimbaud
Composition Year 1939
Work Movements 1. Fanfare
2. Villes
3a. Phrase
3b. Antique
4. Royauté
5. Marine
6. Interlude
7. Being Beauteous
8. Parade
9. Départ
Language French
Artist(s) Pekka Kuusisto [violin], Irish Chamber Orchestra, Claire Booth [soprano]
Performance Date Sunday 30th June 2013
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:24:09
Recording Engineer Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category Large Mixed Ensemble
Instrumentation S-solo, orchestra, leader, director
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

The sheer audacity of this work is stunning. The opening Fanfare is electrifying, instinctively you look for the trumpets and piccolos and drums, then the soprano’s entry with the motif cry redoubles the intensity and the shock, leading to the climactic sauvage, instantly calmed by the solo violin. This is a visionary work, the composer seizes and mutilates the poet’s crazed illuminations and creates a terrifying and chaotic vision for which only the composer holds the key.

Rimbaud’s prose-poem is hallucinatory and dream-like, bordering on the incomprehensible. He uses words not for their literal meaning but for their evocative quality. This is quickly apparent in the Cities section, where the text is wild, at times surreal, if indeed you can follow it all. The challenge for the singer must be immense, for the audience the recurring cry Ce sont des villes! is perhaps the only signpost in this urban nightmare, which is mirrored in an even more violent form  in the eighth section Parade. But the sheer energy and excitement of Villes is exceptional – Les sauvages dansent sans cesse la fête de la nuit!

In between we have an extended love-poem. We are hurled from the violent to the exquisite in the high-wire act of the third section Phrase, threading gold chains from star to star, closing with the soprano’s impossible, climactic et je danse. From the heights the music descends to the purely physical, the details of the beloved’s body Gracieux fils de Pan, but what sensual music they create. Royauté is another form of the fanfare idea, a visionary couple announcing with trumpets and drums that they were to become king and queen for the day, while Marine is an ecstatic vision of seascapes, the music as crazed and inventive as the poet’s imagery.

The second half opens with a new more sombre assertion of the opening J’ai seul la clef de cette parade sauvage, the singer this time accompanied by the solo violin, the great cry reduced almost to uncertainty. The Being Beauteous poem returns to the Son of Pan from Antique, this time the lover is un Être de Beauté, the vivid imagery lovingly enunciated by the soprano to cool restraint in the strings. There is no restraint when the city returns parading all its most violent inhabitants in a parade that only the poet-composer can control.

All visions come to an end – Seen enough, had enough, known enough. The singer gradually takes her leave, guiding us to the Exit, go seek new love and new sounds and new visions.