Work: L'arlésienne: Suite no 2
About This Work
In 1879 the Opéra Comique in Paris staged its wildly successful revival of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen. Public response to Bizet's music ran so strong that publishers began to clamor for more of his music -- such as could be found, since the
composer had died four years early. Bizet's friend and amanuensis Ernest Guiraud turned to the task of evaluating what could be edited for publication of Bizet's surviving manuscripts. Girard had an intimate knowledge of Bizet's musical style, and it was he who had already transformed the few bits of spoken dialogue within Carmen into neat recitative.
It was quickly apparent to Girard that he had undertaken no easy task. Bizet had only arrived at his signature style some six years before his death, and precious little of Bizet's time had been devoted to the composition of original works. Much of it had been taken up with projects designed to pay the bills, primarily in creating piano/vocal scores of operas by his more celebrated contemporaries such as Gounod and Reyer -- works that are forgotten today.
Nonetheless, by 1880 Girard had decided to embark on constructing a second suite from Bizet's incidental music for Alphonse Daudet's 1872 play L'Arlesienne as companion to the composer's own suite. None of the 27 cues that Bizet had written for L'Arlesienne were very substantial in and of themselves, and Bizet had already mined most of the good ones himself. Also, the original work was written for a theater orchestra of less than 30 players. Girard decided to use Bizet's own L'Arlesienne Suite as a model for how to deal with enlarging the original orchestration, and as a result the second L'Arlesienne Suite resembles the first in terms of instrumental color.
The Pastorale that opens this suite was the most complete bit of music that Bizet had composed for L'Arlesienne that he hadn't used in the previous offering; the rest of the work posed a problem. Girard solved it by reprising part of the "Minuetto" from the first suite to flesh out the "Intermezzo" of the second, dovetailing the too-short "Farandole" into a reprise of the "Pastorale," and borrowing another minuet from an unrelated work, Bizet's opera La Jolie Fille de Perth. Later, Girard further borrowed the "Intermezzo" he'd created for this suite, added choral parts, and created the well-known Agnus Dei which bears Bizet's name. This latter work has to be considered spurious, considering its origins.
Despite the cut-and-paste method through which the second L'Arlesienne Suite was put together, it holds up fairly well to the first, and the two are quite frequently performed and recorded together. Both L'Arlesienne Suites constitute a major cornerstone in middle Romantic French orchestral literature, a field in which there are many contenders; few have held the public interest for as long and as well as these two suites of Bizet and Girard.
-- Uncle Dave Lewis, All Music Guide
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