Work: L'arlésienne: Suite no 1
About This Work
Both L'Arlésienne suites are taken from the incidental music Bizet wrote for Alfred Daudet's play of the same name, a melodrama about the love of the hero, Frédéri, for a girl from Arles in Provence, France. In a little over six
weeks, and limited to an orchestra of 26 players, Bizet produced 27 numbers, some no more than a few bars long. Taken together, they are an orchestral tour de force. The orchestra includes a saxophone in E flat, tambourine, piano, and harmonium, with the addition of a small chorus. A few passages are for string quartet alone. The overall effect is of a fully developed, closely integrated set of movements that, as concert performances of the original version have shown, easily stand on their own, and benefit from being freed from the dialogue that accompanied them in the play.
A month after the first production Bizet rescored the four extracts that form the first suite for full orchestra, with the equally sunny and melodious second suite arranged by his friend, the composer Ernest Guiraud, after Bizet's death. Both have proved more durable than the play. Lyrical and spirited by turns, the melodies are rooted in Provençal folk songs and dances, yet have all the color and drama associated with the composer of Carmen.
The first suite comprises four movements: Prelude, Intermezzo (with its title changed to Minuet), Adagietto, and Carillon. Apart from the scoring, the Prelude and Adagietto are unchanged from the original. The latter, a calm reverie for strings, has some magical effects that could not have been conveyed by the original small orchestra. Brass chords set against exultant strings vividly suggest the sound of bells in the Carillon.
Guiraud was closely associated with Bizet's music, having supplied recitatives for Carmen. The choral sections make a satisfying whole when the two suites are played consecutively. Guiraud uses almost the same orchestra as Bizet, though in places with less subtlety. A Pastorale and its following chorus are treated in a similar way to Bizet's Carillon. The Intermezzo, with some fine woodwind passages in the trio section, reinstates the Minuet from the first suite. A second Minuet imported from Bizet's opera The Fair Maid of Perth is pleasant, but sounds rather odd in this context. Guiraud's version of the Farandole (slightly altered from Bizet's) captures the exhilarating nature of this moderately fast traditional "chain" dance.
-- Roy Brewer, All Music Guide
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