12.17.2010

Christmas Offering 2: Berlioz/Buffet


Picture
Buffet

L'Enfance du Christ, Part 1
Hector Berlioz
1855
A son of French rationalism, Berlioz has a certain humanistic, Deistic flavor to his religious music. Yet one needs only listen to his Te Deum or Requiem to taste his sincerity, passion, and profundity. This trilogie sacrée is beautiful. The first part, La songe d'Hérode, begins without introduction with the complaints and fugal marching of Roman soldiers around the palace of Herod. Apparently Herod has been acting strange and is tortured by a dream of dethronement by a child. Upon consulting cabalistic diviners he enacts the Massacre of the Innocents. The scene changes to Jesus' manger in Bethlehem where a chorus of Faustian angels call the holy family away to Egypt.
The main theme of Berlioz's Songe d'Hérode revolves around the use, misuse, burden, fear of power. I feel that Parisian painter Bernard Buffet (1928-1999) captures that in his depiction. In this painting all signs of power, the halos, crowns, opulent robes, staffs, are heavy with sooty, Gothic tear streaks. Unlike Berlioz however, these characters's emotions are buried beneath skull-like masks, mountains of clothes. These two works are passion and gesture. How does one react to the nativity?
Scène 1, Marche nocturne

Il rêve, il tremble,
Il voit partout des traîtres, il assemble
Son conseil chaque jour;
Et du soir au matin
Il faut sur lui veiller;
Il nous obsède enfin.

-- H.B.

trans.
He dreams, he trembles,
He sees traitors everywhere, he assembles
His board each day;
And from dusk to dawn
We need to see him;
It haunts us at last.

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