Programme Guide

At the heart of Paul Claudel and Arthur Honegger’s dramatic oratorio Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher is the heroine from Domrémy, who brought France victory over the English and Burgundians at Orléans and was later condemned to death.

The story is not told chronologically, but in flashbacks: the work opens with the condemned woman being bound to the stake, her whole life passing before her as if in a film. As Claudel’s text also contains biblical quotations and lyrics from folk songs, Honegger created a musical collage to adequately reflect the multi-layered text. In the farcical courtroom scene with a pig presiding (here given the French word cochon – a play on words referring to the historical Bishop of Beauvais, Pierre Cauchon, who actually presided), the composer evokes the atmosphere of the music hall with cancan and ragtime. In contrast, the conspiratorial atmosphere of the card game of the powerful, in which the decision to condemn Jeanne d’Arc is made, is accentuated with Baroque dances.

All in all, Honegger came up with incredibly varied sound combinations in this masterpiece with speaking roles, vocal parts and an orchestra that includes three saxophones, four trombones, two pianos, celesta and ondes Martenot in addition to reinforced woodwinds, in which “chanted words, murmurs, screams, psalmody, closed-mouth choruses, spoken and sung outbursts of rage” and “celestial voices” alternate, according to the French music critic Émile Vuillermoz.

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