Peter Benoit – Le roi des aulnes (1859)
(Harelbeke, 17 August 1834 – Antwerp, 8 March 1901)
Like so many romantic composers, Peter Benoit was fascinated by the legend of the Erlking, popularised by Johann Wolfgang Goethe in his poem Erlkönig (1782). The poem tells the story of a father who rides home on horseback with his sick son while the boy is being tormented by visions of the fairy king; once they arrive home, the boy appears to have died in his arms. Goethe based the poem on the Danish ballad Elveskud, as adapted and translated by Johann Gottfried Herder.
In addition to Franz Schubert, many others set Goethe’s text to music in the early nineteenth century, among whom Carl Loewe, Andreas Romberg, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Carl Friedrich Zelter and Václav Tomášek. And Goethe’s text continued to inspire composers, including Louis Spohr who wrote a version for baritone, violin and piano in 1856. Others were inspired by Schubert’s iconic Lied: Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst composed the virtuoso Grand caprice pour violon solo sur Le roi des aulnes de F. Schubert in 1854, and in 1860 Hector Berlioz orchestrated the song (with a French translation). Around the same time Peter Benoit in turn composed two works inspired by the legend of the Erlking: the opera in one act Le roi des aulnes (1858) and the piano piece of the same name (number three of the first suite of Contes et ballades, 1861) (Repertoire Explorer. The Flemish Music Collection 565).
The first version of his ‘opéra-comique’ Le roi des aulnes premiered on 2 December 1859 at the Casino des Galeries Saint-Hubert in Brussels. Of this version only the overture has survived; the libretto of E. Castin, who was not only a writer but also a ‘peintre-décorateur’, has not been preserved either. During his stay in Paris (1859-1863) on a scholarship of the Prix de Rome, he adapted the opera in 1861 based on a libretto by the French playwright Louis-Adolphe Turpin de Sansay. The press announced several times a performance at the Théâtre-Lyrique or the Opéra-Comique in Paris, but in the end, this second version of the one-act in eight scenes would never be performed.
This version of the overture, published in 1938 by the Peter Benoit Fund, was more than likely edited by composer-conductor Flor Alpaerts on the basis of two manuscripts going back to the 1859 version: a manuscript housed in the Antwerp City Archives – presumably the original manuscript – and a manuscript housed in the Brussels Conservatory Library.
This Weberian overture was often performed both during Benoit’s life as well as after his death and was recorded on CD by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of Flanders conducted by Frédéric Devreese (Naxos 8.553601) and the Brussels Philharmonic conducted by Jan Latham-Koenig (Klara MMP 024).
(translation: Jasmien Dewilde)
This score is a facsimile of the 1938 edition by the Peter Benoit Fund and is published in collaboration with the Study Centre for Flemish Music (www.svm.be). The orchestral parts are available at the Study Centre for Flemish Music.
Read Flemish and German preface > HERE