Work: L'enfance du Christ, Op. 25
About This Work
At a party thrown in September 1850 by a friend from his Prix de Rome days, Joseph-Louis Duc (1802-1879) -- architect of the column in the Place de la Bastille -- Berlioz, perched against the corner of a card table and ignoring the game of whist
being played thereon, inscribed a small four-part Andantino for organ in Duc's album and facetiously signed it "Pierre Ducré." For a concert of the newly formed Société Philharmonique on November 12, he rewrote the piece for chorus and small orchestra as Adieu des bergers à la Sainte Famille ("the shepherds' farewell to the Holy Family") to a text of his own devising, ascribing the work to "Pierre Ducré, master of music to the Sainte Chapelle, 1679." The hoax took. And when the work was repeated in December critics praised its "pure and simple style" while declaring that "Berlioz could never do anything like that!" Before the year was out he had preceded it with a charmingly severe fugal overture dans le style ancien, and rounded it off with a tenor solo narrating the angel-watched rest of the Holy Family at a desert oasis, "Le Repos de la Sainte Famille." Taken together, the three pieces were collectively titled La Fuite en Égypte and continued to be attributed to the fictional choirmaster of Sainte Chapelle until the work's publication by Richault in 1852; the title page reads "attribué à Pierre Ducré, Maître de Chapelle imaginaire, et composé par Hector Berlioz." To the work's dedicatee, John Ella, director of the London Musical Union, Berlioz gleefully recounted the whole business in an open "correspondance philosophique" reprinted in Les Grotesques de la musique (1859). "Le Repos de la Sainte Famille" was first heard in London at a concert of the Philharmonic Society under Berlioz's direction on May 30, 1853, while the complete Fuite en Égypte, in a superb German translation by poet and composer Peter Cornelius (1824-1874), was given a resplendent première in 1853, in Leipzig by the Gewandhaus Orchestra, and choral forces drawn from the surrounding region, under Berlioz's baton. Spurred by the kindness of his Leipzig hosts and the enthusiasm of Liszt for the new work, Berlioz soon added to La Fuite en Égypte another panel, "L'Arrivée à Saïs," in January 1854, and by July, with "Le Songe d'Hérode," he had completed his trilogie sacrée, L'Enfance du Christ.
-- Adrian Corleonis, All Music Guide
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