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Observations placeholder

Berlioz - Les nuits d'été



Type of Spiritual Experience


Les nuits d'été

Berlioz immersed himself in the poems and works of the Romantics - Chateaubriand, E. T. A. Hoffmann, James Fenimore Cooper and his compatriots Victor Hugo, Alfred de Vigny, Alfred de Musset and Gérard de Nerval. He later added Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert and Théophile Gautier to his list of favorites.  He used Gautier's poems as texts for his song cycle Les nuits d'été.

Perhaps as a result of this reading and seeing himself as an archetypical tragic hero, Berlioz wove personal references into all his music. It may in fact have been his love for Shakespeare, shared with the other young artist-heroes of 19th-century France, that drew Berlioz firmly into the brotherhood of Romanticism.

Berlioz finished composing the song cycle Les nuits d'été for piano and voices (later to be orchestrated) in late 1841.  He also entered into an intimate relationship with singer Marie Recio who would become his second wife.

A description of the experience

Hector Berlioz - Les nuits d'ete (Janet Baker with Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia)

Mezzo-soprano: Janet Baker
Conductor: Richard Hickox
Orchestra: City of London Sinfonia

I. Villanelle - 0:00
II. Le spectre de la rose - 2:08
III. Sur les lagunes - 9:04
IV. Absence - 14:37
V. Auclimetiere - 19:52
VI. L'ile inconnue - 24:57

_____English Translations_____

I. Villanelle - 0:00

When the new season has come,
when the cold has disappeared,
together we will go, my lovely one,
to gather lilies-of the valley in the woods.
Beneath our feet picking the pearls
that one sees trembling in the morning.
We will go to hear the blackbirds whistle.

Spring has come, my lovely one,
this is the month blessed by lovers;
and the bird, smoothing its wing,
speaks its verses from the rim of its nest.
Oh! Come here, onto this mossy bank
to speak of our beautiful love,
and say to me, in your sweet voice,

Far, very far, wandering from our path,
setting to flight the hidden rabbit,
and the buck, in the mirror of the spring
admiring its great twisted antlers;
then home, all happy and at ease,
lacing our fingers together like baskets,
we'll return, carrying wild strawberries.


II. Le spectre de la rose - 2:08

Lift your closed eyelids,
touched by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of a rose
which you wore last night at the ball.

You took me, still pearled
with silver tears from the watering can,
and, throughout the star-filled festival
you carried me all the evening.

Oh you who were the cause of my death,
without your being able to chase it away,
every night my rose-colored ghost
will dance by your pillow.

But fear nothing; I claim
neither mass nor requiem.
This light perfume is my soul,
and I have come from paradise.

My destiny is worthy of envy
and to have a fate so beautiful
more than one might have given his life;
since your bosom is my tomb,

And upon the alabaster where I rest
a poet has written with a kiss:
"Here lies a rose
which all kings might envy."


III. Sur les lagunes - 9:04

My beautiful friend is dead;
I will weep forever.
Into the tomb she has carried
my soul and my heart.
To heaven, without waiting for me,
she has returned;
the angel who led her
did not want to take me.
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!

The fair creature
is lying in her coffin;
how everything in nature
seems to me to be in mourning!
The forsaken dove
weeps and dreams of the absent one.
My soul weeps and feels
that it has lost its partner!
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!

Over me the immense night
spreads itself like a shroud.
I sing my romance
which only heaven hears:
Ah! How beautiful she was
and how I loved her!
I will never love
another woman as much as I loved her...
How bitter is my fate!
Ah! To go to sea without love!


IV. l'Absence - 14:37

Return, return, my beloved!
Like a flower far from the sun,
the flower of my life is closed
far from your brilliant smile!

Between our hearts what distance!
What space between our kisses!
O bitter fate! O hard absence!
O great, unappeasable desires!

Return, return...

Between here and there what fields,
what cities and towns,
what valleys and mountains
to weary the feet of the horses!

Return, return...


V. Au Cimitière (Claire de lune) - 19:52

Do you know the white tomb,
where floats, with a plaintive sound,
the shadow of a yew-tree?
On the yew a pale dove,
sad and alone in the sunset,
sings its song:

A melody morbidly tender,
at once charming and deadly,
which will do you harm
and which one wishes to listen to forever;
a melody like the sighing in heaven
of an angel in love.

One might say that an awakened soul
weeps beneath the earth together
with the song,
and, in sorrow at having been forgotten,
laments by cooing
very sweetly.

On the wings of the music
one slowly feels returning
a memory.
A shadow, an angelic form
passes in a ray of trembling light,
veiled in white.

The half-closed Marvels of Peru
spread their delicate and sweet perfume
about you,
and the ghost, standing limply,
murmurs, holding her arms out to you:
"You will return!"

Oh! Never again will I go near the tomb
when evening falls
in its black robe,
to listen to the pale dove
singing, on the branch of the yew-tree,
its plaintive song.


VI. L'Ile inconnue - 24:57

Tell me, pretty young girl,
where do you wish to go?
The sail spreads its wing,
the breeze is beginning to blow.

The oar is of ivory,
the flag of silk,
the rudder of pure gold;
for ballast I have an orange,
for sail the wing of an angel,
for cabin-boy, a seraph.

Tell me...

Is it to the Baltic sea?
To the Pacific ocean?
To the island of Java?
Or is it rather to Norway,
to gather snow-flowers,
or the flowers of Angsoka?

Tell me, tell me, where do you want to go?

"Take me," says the pretty one,
"to the faithful shore
where people love forever!"
That shore, my dear,
is almost unknown
in the country of love.

Where do you want to go?
The breeze is beginning to blow.

The source of the experience


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