Work: Thaïs: Meditation
About This Work
With the very slight exception of the Suites, Jules Massenet (1842-1912) was an opera composer who wrote virtually no independent orchestral music that survives in the concert hall. The one great exception is his Méditation from his opera
Thäis (1894). Based on the novel by Anatole France, Thäis poses the question that haunts most of Massenet's serious opera: which is better, sacred or profane love? While the answer to that question is usually profane love while alive and sacred when dead, in the Méditation, Massenet opted for the latter for at least five minutes and, in so doing, created his one successful orchestral piece, albeit an orchestral piece in the form of a slow movement for violin and orchestra. With its long-breathed ethereal melody, its iridescent harmonies, its evanescent rhythm, and its incandescent climax, Massenet's Méditation is a hymn to sacred love that is completely convincing as long as it lasts. While other arrangements of the work exist, even the most faithful of them, a transcription for violin and piano frequently encountered on the recitals of especially gifted students, cannot hold a candle to the pseudo-sublime original.
-- James Leonard
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