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Pierre Boulez

Publisher: Alphonse Leduc

Le Soleil des Eaux (1947)
Text Writer
René Char
Publisher
Heugel
Category
Chorus and Orchestra/Ensemble
Year Composed
1947
Duration
10 Minutes
Chorus
Chorus (SATB)
Soloist
Soprano
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Programme Note
Pierre Boulez Le Soleil des Eaux (1947)
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At the origin of the score was a series of poems by René Char, ‘spectacle pour une toile de pêcheur’ a play with a Provençal resonance. 1946: quite concerned by political and social issues, and a militant in the anti-Nazi cause and Resistance fighter under the name of ‘Capitaine Alexandre’, Char wrote this text, ecological before the term existed, which Alain Trutat put on the air for French Radio. For this ambitious play with its 42 scenes and 32 roles, music turned out to be necessary. Trutat (1922-2006), a particularly inventive radio man,
offered the composition to the young Pierre Boulez. This radio version, broadcast on 1 April 1948, was withdrawn from the Boulez catalogue before finding a new life, or even several successive lives, all based on two texts chosen by the composer and which, dramatically speaking, have no direct connection with Char’s original play: La Complainte du lézard amoureux and La Sorgue. This poetry, almost pastoral if not impulsive, followed by the echo of the fishermen’s protest against industrial promoters: René Char, was a precursor in the charge against pollution... He was delighted by Pierre Boulez’s work, as attests a letter dated 12 October 1948: ‘I am really pleased with what you are creating and establishing for my poems. The score of Le Soleil des eaux was very beautiful and worthy of our attention. I would like for all your work, drawn up in a fearsome platoon, to properly shoot the idiocy of our time.’

Attuned to the subject, the Boulez’s score offers two parts in a different spirit, although linked structurally, as revealed by the use of a series of the first six analogous sounds, apart from the transposition. But supple music accompanies the Complainte, ‘fluid, almost nonchalant music, in which traces of sonorities «à la Messiaen» can still be perceived,’ notes Dominique Jameux, whereas the atmosphere of La Sorgue hardens, becoming incantatory, with brief, violent tensions.

The syntax continues to take on a Webernian technique combined with the heritage of Debussy. The methods of vocal production, soloists and mixed chorus, are particularly studied. ‘The narration,’ stresses Robert Piencikowski, ‘goes from the ornamented syllabism of a few melismas in the first part to verbal reduction in the second, from singing bocca chiusa to declamatory utterance.’

The Lament of the Lizard in Love consists of seven stanzas (or quatrains). In consulting the original poem, one will notice that the composer inverted strophes 5 and 6.

Do not peck the sunflower seeds,
Your cypresses would be upset,
Goldfinch, resume your flight
And come back to your woollen bed.

You are not a pebble from the sky
For the wind to consider rid,
Country bird; the rainbow
Blends in the daisy.

The man is shooting, so hide yourself;
The sunflower is his accomplice.
Only the grasses are on your side,
The bending grasses of the fields.

The snake does not know you,
And the grasshopper is grumpy;
The mole does not see there;
The butterfly hates no one.

The echo of this country is safe.
I observe, I am a good prophet;
I see everything from my little wall,
Even the owl staggering.

It is midday, goldfinch,
The groundsel is there, gleaming.
Linger, go without danger:
The man has gone home to his family!

Who, better than a lizard in love,
Can tell the earthly secrets?
O light, kind king of the skies,
Do you not have your nest amongst my stones!

Poem in Les Matinaux © Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1969 / Translation : John Tyler Tuttle

As for The Sorgue, it is made up of 11 verses.

River that left too soon, in one go, without companion, Give the children of my country the face of your passion.

River where lightning ends and my house begins,
That rolls to the steps of forgetfulness the rubble of my reason.

River, in you, earth is shiver, sun anxiety.
May every pauper in his night make his bread from your harvest.

River often punished, river neglected.
River of apprentices to the callous condition,
There is only the wind that does not sway at the crest of your furrows.

River of the empty soul, of rags and suspicion,
Of old misfortune that unwinds itself, of the young elm, of compassion.

River of eccentrics, the feverish, the renderers,
Of the sun dropping its plough to team up with the liar.

River of those better than oneself, river of hatched fogs, Of the lamp that quenches anguish round its hat.

River of consideration for dreaming, river that rusts iron, Where the stars have this shadow that they refuse to the sea.

River of powers transmitted and of the cry entering the waters,
Of the hurricane that bites the vine and announces the new wine.

River with the never-destroyed heart in this world mad for prison.
Keep us violent and friend to the bees of the horizon.

Poem in Fureur et mystère © Editions Gallimard, Paris, 1969 / Translation : John Tyler Tuttle

Finally, the history of this work, revised by the composer on several occasions, can be summed up in this chronology:

April 1948: first performance of the radio play.
18 July 1950: first performance of the second version, for soprano, tenor, and bass soloists and chamber orchestra, by Irène Joachim, Pierre Mollet, Joseph Peyron and the Orchestre
National de France, conducted by Roger Désormière, in Paris (Théâtre des Champs-Elysées).
9 September 1958: first performance of the third version, for soprano, tenor, bass, mixed chorus in three parts (STB) and orchestra, by Josephine Nendick, Helmut Krebs, Heinz Rehfuss, the Hessian Radio Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Ernest Bour, in Darmstadt. First Paris performance of this version in December 1958, under the direction of Manuel Rosenthal.
4 October 1965: first performance of the fourth version, for soprano, mixed 4-part chorus and orchestra, by Catherine Gayer and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by the composer, in Berlin.

  • Ensemble
    BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Orchestra
    Soloist(s)
    Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano; Elizabeth Laurence, alto;
    Conductor
    Pierre Boulez
Performances
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