Les Érinnyes for orchestra
Jules Massenet – Les Érinnyes
(b. Montand, 12 May 1842 — d. Paris, 13 August 1912
Apart from a comprehensive body of work of operas, Jules Massenet contributed, from the onset of his musical career, numerous other works for the musical stage – beside three operettas, four ballets and three sacred music drama’s involving substantial or little staging, he also composed music for fourteen theatre plays, the first one being the classical tragedy Les Érinnyes, a play in two acts by Charles Marie Leconte de Lisle (1818-1894).
Leconte de Lisle regarded himself as an “objectivist” poet and belonged to the school of the “Parnassians”; his Éolides was the inspiration in 1877 for César Franck’s Symphonic Poem of the same name, as was the poem Les Élephants for the first mouvement of the Symphonie orientale op. 84 by Benjamin Godards, published in 1883.
Massenet composed theatre music for the verse drama Les Érinnyes, after Aeschylus, in 1872, using material from his earlier composition Pompéia, a symphonic Suite which is now lost. The first performance took place at the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris on 8 January of the following year, under the musical direction of Éduard Colonne. The composer had been promised an orchestra of forty players by the artistic director Félix-Henri Duquesnel, which Massenet described in his memoirs as remarkably generous; to contrast the string section he used three trombones to represent the three Goddesses of Vengeance of the work’s title. Massenet labelled this first version as opus 10.
Pauline Viardot had been present at the dress rehearsal and made the following comments: “Bravo, dear M. Massenet, your music for Les Érynnyes is outstanding. The production could not be better and I listened in a calm frame of mind, knowing that all would be well at the opening night. But, for goodness’ sake, do ask M. Duquesnel to dress his Erinyes in grey – they look too much like the nuns in Robert le Diable – there is just too much white.” For Massenet the production was a breakthrough, although criticism arose early on already regarding a certain mismatch between drama and music. “This hellish noise”, Duquesnel is supposed to have mentioned, “awakes in me a wish to murder (…) a terrible din – happy are the deaf”.
For the 1875/6 season a revival of the drama was put on at the Opéra Nationale Lyrique (the so
called Théâtre du Gaîté), for which Massenet reworked the score, supplementing several numbers, including a ballet. For this production, as for the first performance, a piano score of Massenet’s work came out, now prepared for full orchestra.
Massenet’s music, of which also a Suite exists, quickly gained great popularity, especially the Invocation (Electra’s appeal at Agamemnon’s grave in Act II) which is still heard often today as the Évocation for cello and orchestra. As music for Leconte de Lisle’s drama, which was introduced to the repertoire of the Comédie Française in 1910, it was soon rarely heard and was instead adopted for performance in the concert hall.
Übersetzung: Babette Lichtenstein
For performance material please contact Heugel, Paris.
210 x 297 mm