Emmanuelle Haïm conducts Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks”

19 Oct 2019

Berliner Philharmoniker
Emmanuelle Haïm

Lucy Crowe, Florian Sempey

  • Henry Purcell
    Suite from The Fairy Queen (27 min.)

  • George Frideric Handel
    Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351 (22 min.)

  • George Frideric Handel
    Apollo e Dafne, Cantata for Soprano, Bass, Flute, Oboe, Strings and Continuo, HWV 122 (48 min.)

    Lucy Crowe soprano, Florian Sempey baritone

  • free

    Emmanuelle Haïm in conversation with Jonathan Kelly (19 min.)

Emmanuelle Haïm studied piano and organ at the Conservatoire in her native Paris until discovering for herself the harpsichord – and thus the world of early music. She won her first musical spurs as William Christie’s musical assistant and harpsichordist in his ensemble Les Arts Florissants. In 2000 she founded her own ensemble, Le Concert dʼAstrée, with which she has been holding guest performances around the world through the present day, repeatedly producing prize-winning recordings of works from the Baroque musical period. As a proven specialist in historical performance practice, Emmanuelle Haïm soon also conducted groups such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin and the hr-Sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt am Main.

Her collaboration with the Berliner Philharmoniker dates back to 2002: she was involved at that time in performances of Johann Sebastian Bach’s St John Passion, assisting Sir Simon Rattle as continuo player. Emmanuelle Haïm debuted as conductor of the Berliner Philharmoniker in 2008 with performances of Georg Friedrich Händel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day. Three years later she conducted a Philharmonic concert programme with works by Händel and Jean-Philippe Rameau that resulted in an education project dedicated to the music of the French composer. Since then, Emmanuelle Haïm has time and again enriched the Berlin Philharmonic’s repertoire to include rarely played works, for instance Händel’s oratorio La resurrezione, which she performed in the Philharmonie in 2014.

Overall, Händel is a composer particularly close to the charismatic musician’s heart – not least because she, in her own words, particularly appreciates his unique feeling for the many-faceted possibilities of expression of the human voice. So it’s no wonder that for these Berliner Philharmoniker concerts Emmanuelle Haïm has programmed – besides Music for the Royal Fireworks, one of Händel’s perennial orchestral hits that premiered in 1749 – the cantata Apollo e Dafne, one of the composer’s rarely heard vocal compositions, completely under the spell of early 18th-century Italian opera. The concert kicks off with excerpts from Henry Purcell’s semi-opera TheFairy-Queen, based on William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, launched in London in 1692.

Masquerade, Lover’s Lament, Fireworks

Music by Henry Purcell and George Frideric Handel

The Chinese Daphne: a dream play – Suite from Purcell’s Fairy Queen

When Henry Purcell was born in England in 1659, an era of aggressive contempt for music was coming to an end in his homeland. The military regime of Oliver Cromwell had shown a hostility towards culture that was by no means unusual among religious zealots. The ultra-puritanical moral guardians of the Commonwealth of England were suspicious of all display and courtly ostentation; they controlled church music almost to the point of silencing it, burned music, destroyed instruments, demolished or dismantled organs and closed the theatres. During the period of the Restoration beginning in 1660, however, King Charles II, who had returned from exile to the English throne, restored not only the reign of the Stuarts but also the cosmopolitan court musical culture. And Purcell, who was appointed to the position of “composer for the violins” in 1677, already advanced to become one of its protagonists at an early age. In quick succession he also secured the key positions of organist at Westminster Abbey, “gentleman” of the Chapel Royal (which meant singing and playing the organ) and finally “keeper of the King’s instruments”. In England, however, Purcell was celebrated above all as “the greatest English opera composer”, although he in fact composed only a single opera, a single “all-sung opera”, to be precise: Dido and Aeneas. But with works like Dioclesian, King Arthur and The Fairy Queen, Purcell left a legacy of musical dramas, semi-operas at the intersection between spoken theatre and opera.

Sophisticated and restrained, profound and idealized to sublime beauty – that is how the lament “O let me weep” from Purcell’s third semi-operaFairy Queensounds. Freely adapted from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was performed for the first time in London in 1692. Purcell’s lament has nothing at all to do with this fantastic comedy filled with romantic delusion and fairy spells, however. Purcell did not set Shakespeare’s lines but rather composed masques for each of the five acts which are symbolically connected with the surrounding action in the broadest sense, comparable to the burlesque intermezzos of Italian opera or, even more, the sung and danced divertissements of the French tragédie en musique. In any case, England’s greatest opera composer by no means disdained the musical contributions of rival nations, including the overture, plainte and chaconne, reflections of a more refined French way of life in an England no longer dominated by Puritans. Indeed, Purcell ventured much further, culminating with the exotic fantasy in the finale, a potpourri of Greek mythology and fashionable chinoiserie: “Thus happy and free,” sings a “Chinese woman”, who is nevertheless subsequently addressed as Daphne by her “Chinese man”. That is how bizarre, irrational, illogical and romantic things are in Purcell’s theatre – almost as if in a dream.

The laurel of love: a duel–Handel’s“La terra è liberata” (Apollo e Dafne)

On the cue “Daphne” George Frideric Handel enters the scene. The composer from Halle composed “La terra è liberata” The earth is freed (Apollo e Dafne), HWV 122, in Italy. Or, to be exact, he began work on it there. The cantata was not completed and premiered until 1710 in Hanover, after Handel was appointed court musical director of the electoral prince. But that did not keep him in Germany for long. In autumn of the same year he travelled to England for the first time, where he established himself in the innermost circle of power at the court of the British Queen, Anne Stuart, within a few weeks. For her birthday on 6 February 1711 “a fine Consort, being a Dialogue in Italian, in Her Majesty’s Praise” was presented: apparently the cantata Apollo e Dafne.

The unknown librettist of the cantata subtly linked Daphne’s first aria to the opening. Whereas at the beginning Apollo triumphantly exclaims: “The earth is freed!”, she calls the soul happy which loves only freedom. He speaks of overpowering conquest, she extols the peace of an unfettered existence. The composer exhausts this contradiction by assigning proud, lordly, belligerent music to Apollo, portraying Daphne, on the other hand, with a gentle pastorale, completely unoverbearing and unheroic. In the second section of her aria she even sings “senza bassi” (without basses), accompanied only by the oboe and the violins: the metaphor of an endangered idyll, an abysmal world. And the abyss quickly opens when her Apollo, wounded by Cupid’s golden arrow, upsets things and brings misfortune on her and himself. Handel presents the drama of the battle of the sexes without stage or scenery, through the musically defined space alone, the vocal actions and attacks. Aria after aria, the world goes to pieces in the vehement voices of the instruments, which pursue and flee from each other, as an evil omen of the impending catastrophe. In the unisons of the violins and the cello solo, he depicts blazing passions, fury and rage with the frenzied swinging of a seismograph. Or he duplicates the role play when, for example, the violin and bassoon play a duet as an odd couple – like the Beauty and the Beast – in the penultimate aria of the cantata. “My feet pursue, my arms embrace the ungrateful beauty,” Apollo sings. But then the miracle of transformation occurs, the rescue of the pursued innocent. The nymph changes her form and transforms herself into the sacred laurel tree, freed forever from the intrigues of a world of love-crazed men. Apollo is left with only a melancholy song of farewell, which is in every respect the complete opposite of his self-assured entrance. The cantata ends so softly, slowly, chastely and with such reserve that it almost ceases to be heard; it withdraws, with an elegy to unrequited love (and fallen pride).

A Europe without borders: Handel’s Fireworks Music

This “excellent music” had not gone unheard. George Frideric Handel was already rewarded with a lifelong royal pension of £200 by Queen Anne in 1713. A few years later her successor to the throne, George I, promoted him to “composer of music for his Majesty’s Chapel Royal”. When his Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351, resounded in a splendidly festive atmosphere, Great Britain shone with noble grandeur and magnificent glory. Or perhaps not? The Fireworks Music, composed for the celebration of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), was reportedly rehearsed in front of 12,000 people in London’s Vauxhall Gardens on 21 April 1749 and afterwards before the King in Green Park near St. James’s Palace on 27 April – a pyrotechnical spectacle, loudly accompanied by an orchestra of martial forces with nine trumpets, nine horns, 24 oboes, 12 bassoons, a contrabassoon, three pairs of kettledrums and side drums. In May 1749 Handel arranged the Fireworks Music in the version used nowadays, with strings and winds, for a performance in an enclosed hall.

When Handel composed this showpiece of British power and greatness, he was naturally influenced by the culture of the military arch-enemy; his Music for the Royal Fireworks begins with a two-part French overture in the form developed by Jean-Baptiste Lully, the court composer of the Sun King Louis XIV. To add to the confusion, however, it must be remembered that Lully was not a Frenchman, but an Italian, Giovanni Battista Lulli from Florence. What an irony of history, at least of music history! And thus these fireworks celebrate a Europe without borders – with the understanding that there is a vast space between rootlessness and national cultural hegemony: for music, art and the uprooted, homeland-loving life.

Wolfgang Stähr

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

Emmanuelle Haïm studied piano with Yvonne Lefébure, organ with André Isoir and cembalo with Kenneth Gilbert and Christophe Rousset at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique. She soon became in demand internationally as continuo player of Baroque opera and concert repertoire. Natalie Dessay, Ian Bostridge, Philippe Jaroussky and other singing stars regularly invite her as accompanist for their solo performances. As an assistant, the musician has worked together with conductors such as William Christie, Marc Minkowski and Sir Simon Rattle. In 2000, Emmanuelle Haïm founded the Baroque ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée with which she has performed twice in the Original sound series in the Chamber Music Hall (November 2008 and March 2016) and will return at the end of November 2019. Furthermore, she has conducted several Baroque operas for Glyndebourne Touring Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival since 2001. She is also a regular guest with, among others, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Frankfurt Radio Symphony (hr-Sinfonieorchester Frankfurt) and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In 2018 she gave her debut with the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester and the New York Philharmonic, and in May 2019 she conducted a new production of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie at Opera Zurich. Emmanuelle Haïm first appeared on the rostrum of the Berliner Philharmoniker in March 2008 in concerts of Handel’s Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day (HWV 76). She last conducted the orchestra in October 2014 in three concerts with Handel’s oratorio La Ressurezione. The artist is an honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music; in France she was named Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur and Officier des Arts et des Lettres.

Lucy Crowe, born in Staffordshire (England), studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, to which she was appointed a “Fellow” in 2014. One of the leading lyric sopranos of her generation, the singer has appeared as Adele (Die Fledermaus) and Servilia (La clemenza di Tito) at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and as Eurydice (Orphée et Eurydice), Adina (L’elisir d’ amore ), Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Gilda (Rigoletto) and Belinda (Dido and Aeneas) at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London. Further engagements have taken her to Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, English National Opera and the Glyndebourne Festival, where she has enjoyed great success in roles such as Sophie (Der Rosenkavalier), Rosina (Il barbiere di Siviglia), Dona Isabel (The Indian Queen), Poppea (Agrippina) and Micaëla (Carmen). As a much sought-after concert singer, Lucy Crowe has worked with leading orchestras and conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Emmanuelle Haïm, Andris Nelsons, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Sir Simon Rattle. Guest appearances include at the Aldeburgh Festival, the Edinburgh International Festival, the Mostly Mozart Festival in New York and the Salzburg Festival; she has also given recitals at London’s Wigmore Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. With the Berliner Philharmoniker, Lucy Crowe made her debut in October 2017 in the title role of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning LittleVixen, she last appeared with the orchestra in December 2018 in Mahler’s Second Symphony conducted by Andris Nelsons.

The French baritone Florian Sempey began his musical training with the piano, but then changed to Françoise Detchnenique’s vocal class at the Conservatoire de Libourne. In 2007, he moved to the Conservatoire national de Bordeaux and the class of Maryse Castets. In addition, he attended workshops and master classes held by François Le Roux, Roland Mancini and Sophie Landy, among others. In 2008, Sempey was awarded the Prix Opéra and the audience prize at the Concours de chant des amis du Grand Théâtre of the Opéra national de Bordeaux. After his stage debut as Papageno in Bordeaux and some minor roles, Figaro in Rossini’s Barbiere di Siviglia became a cornerstone of his repertoire, a role which he has now also presented in Paris, at the 2014 Rossini Festival in Pesaro, at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden and in Marseille and Luxembourg. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of the Opera Studio of the Opéra de Paris. He has regularly appeared there since then in productions such as Les Huguenots, La cenerentola, and in Robert Carsen’s production of the Zauberflöte. He sang the role of Dr Falke (Die Fledermaus) in a production by Ivan Alexandre at the Opéra-Comique de Paris under the baton of Marc Minkowski. At Deutsche Oper Berlin, the baritone has appeared as Alphonse XI. (Donizetti’s La favorite) and most recently in concert in the title role of Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet at the side of Diana Damrau in June 2019. Florian Sempey now makes his debut in concerts of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

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