Hector Berlioz (1803-69)

La Belle Voyageuse


H. 42C (version III: for mezzo-soprano and orchestra) ??or??
H. 42D (version IV: for women's chorus and orchestra)

For ?mezzo-soprano solo /ou/ Chur (Sopr., Contr.)?; Fl., Hb. I-II, Cl. I-II, Bn; Cordes.

Text by Thomas Moore (1779-1852): "Rich and rare were the gems she wore," from Irish Melodies I (Dublin, 1807), translated by Thomas Gounet (1801-69), a friend of the composer.

Composed for voice and piano, c. May-December 1829; orchestrated December 1842; rearranged for women's chorus March 1851.

First performed Winter 1842-43 (Stuttgart, Hechingen, Weimar, Leipzig, Dresden; Marie Recio, Berlioz conducting). The version for women's chorus and orchestra first performed 25 March1851 (Paris: Salle Ste.-Cécile, Berlioz conducting).

Published by S. Richault (Paris, c. 1844).

Duration: c. 3 minutes.

Berlioz composed his Neuf Mélodies imitées de l'anglais(Irish Melodies)--later called simply Irlande--in 1829 (H. 38-47), between the Huit Scènes de Faust (H. 33) and the Symphonie fantastique (H. 48). His source was Thomas Moore's Irish Melodies, which he knew in the transltion of Louise Sw. Belloc, Les Amours des anges et les mélodies irlandaises de Thomas Moore (Paris, 1823). The correspondence shows that he was reading Moore in early 1829; in the Mémoires he suggests that he began with no. 9, the Élégie en prose, captivated by the text he saw lying open on a table. "C'est la seule fois qu'il me soit arrivé de pouvoir peindre un sentiment pareil, en étant encore sous son influence active et immédiate." By the late spring he had enlisted his friend Thomas Gounet to help with the translations of eight more poems, and Gounet doubtless used both the English originals and Belloc's translation simultaneously. The first piano-vocal edition was published by Maurice Schlesinger in early 1830, and the songs were soon being sung in public recitals and private salons.

In November and December 1834 Berlioz and the conductor Narcisse Girard gave a series of four concerts at the Salle du Conservatoire, largely to introduce Harold en Italie alongside the Fantastique and the overtures. Berlioz filled out his programs by orchestrating four songs originally composed for voice and piano: Sara la baigneuse and La Belle Voyageuse for 9 November 1834, La Captive and Le Jeune Pâtre breton for 23 November. This first orchestration of La Belle Voyageuse, now lost, was for male quartet--Puig, Boulanger, *** [Berlioz himself], and Hense--and orchestra. Then in December 1842 he reset the work for mezzo-soprano and small orchestra as a vehicle for his mistress, Marie Recio, to sing on their concert tour of late 1842 and 1843 through German-speaking lands. It was during this journey that he abandoned Marie in Frankfurt: "she sings like a cat . . . and the worst of it is that she wants to sing at all my concerts." They were reunited in Weimar; in Dresden on 12 February 1843 he orchestrated Absence for her in apology, writing at the top: "H. B. à Marie!!"

The 1842 setting was published by Richault shortly after their return to Paris. The last version of La Belle Voyageuse was fashioned for women's chorus and orchestra by alternating the vocal line between the sopranos and contraltos and by adding, from bar 21, a second vocal part below the melody. These changes were entered in pencil in a copy of the published score now found at the Bibliothèque Nationale.

The simple setting is in four repeated strophes, with an accompaniment meant to suggest the drones and arpeggiations of the Celtic harp. A fair maiden wearing gold and rubies sets out alone on an Irish country road; a knight warns her that her beauty and jewels might attract danger. But the Emerald Isle, land of the harp, is a place of honor, she replies. "Que puis-je redouter?" All three song of fair Celtic women--Hélène, La Belle Voyageuse, and Adieu, Bessy--show Berlioz's expansive new melodic style of broad, arching phrases and unconventional but idiomatically precise declamation.