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Donald Macleod charts Chausson’s monumental struggle to complete his operatic masterpiece Le roi Arthus, after almost a decade of endeavour.

Donald Macleod charts Chausson’s monumental struggle to complete his operatic masterpiece Le roi Arthus, after almost a decade of endeavour.

Amédée-Ernest Chausson grew up in Paris during a period of great political, social and economic upheaval in France. Born in 1855, he was fifteen at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian; he lived through the collapse of the Second Empire and the advent of the Third Republic. However Chausson’s family was materially little affected by these dramatic events, quite the opposite in fact. His father profited from the 1850s onwards, working as a building contractor for Baron Haussmann, the man Napoleon III had entrusted to remodel the narrow streets of medieval Paris into wide open boulevards. Even after Napoleon was deposed, the re-construction of the capital city continued. Chausson’s bourgeois lifestyle reflects the salon society of the mid nineteenth century, with an extensive art collection adorning the walls of his family’s substantial residence at 22 Boulevard de Courcelles a stone’s throw from leafy Parc Monceau. Chausson remained in the same mansion with his wife and their three children. Supported by a private income, unlike most artists and musicians within his large circle of acquaintances, he was able to devote himself to composing entirely without any pressure to provide financially for his family. That’s not to say that Chausson’s life was without a care in the world. Critics saw him as a dilettante rather than a serious musician. His relatively small output reflects the agonies of doubt in his mind. His battle to find his own voice at a time when Wagner had cast a long shadow over French music resulted in his only opera taking almost ten years to complete. This struggle for artistic recognition was only just turning a corner when he died unexpectedly at the age of 44 in 1899.

Enchanted forests, myths and legends became something of an obsession for the well-read Chausson. His rare forays into the world of theatre display a natural facility for evoking drama in musical form. Little wonder then that his only opera was drawn from the legend of King Arthur.

Dans la forêt du charme et de l’enchantement , Op 36 no 2
Sandrine Piau, soprano
Susan Manoff, piano

La Tempête (excerpt)
Marie-Ange Todorovitch, soprano
Raphaëlle Farman, soprano
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris
Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor

La Légende de Ste Cécile (excerpt Act 1, Act 2)
Isabelle Vernet, soprano
Chorus of Radio France
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris
Jean-Jacques Kantorow, conductor

Le roi Arthus (Act 1, Tableau 2, Sc 3 excerpt)
Gösta Winbergh, Lancelot, tenor
Teresa Zylis-Gara, Guinevere, soprano
Radio France Chorus
New Philharmonic Orchestra
Armin Jordan, conductor

Le roi Arthus (Act 3 Tableau 2, Sc 6 excerpt)
Gino Quilico, Arthur, baritone
Radio France Chorus
New Philharmonic Orchestra
Armin Jordan, conductor

Producer: Johannah Smith for BBC Wales

59 minutes

Music Played

  • Ernest Chausson

    Dans la forêt du charme et de l'enchantement (2 Songs, Op 36)

    Performer: Susan Manoff. Singer: Sandrine Piau.
    • Naive V5250.
    • Naive.
    • 12.
  • Ernest Chausson

    Duo de Junon et Cérès; Danse rustique (La Tempête)

    Singer: Raphaelle Farman. Singer: Marie-Ange Todorovitch. Orchestra: Ensemble Orchestral de Paris. Conductor: Jean‐Jacques Kantorow.
    • EMI : CDC 5-55323-2.
    • EMI.
    • 25.
  • Ernest Chausson

    Que d'étoiles dans vos cheveux (La Légende de Sainte Cécile)

    Singer: Isabelle Vernet. Choir: Maîtrise de Radio France. Ensemble: Paris Orchestral Ensemble. Conductor: Jean‐Jacques Kantorow.
    • EMI : CDC 5-55323-2.
    • EMI.
    • 6.
  • Ernest Chausson

    Delicieux oubli des choses (Le Roi Arthus, Act 1 Scene 3)

    Singer: Gösta Winbergh. Singer: Teresa Żylis‐Gara. Choir: Maîtrise de Radio France. Orchestra: New Philharmonic Orchestra London. Conductor: Armin Jordan.
    • Erato 2292454072.
    • Erato.
    • 3.
  • Ernest Chausson

    Finale (Le Roi Arthus)

    Singer: Gino Quilico. Choir: Maîtrise de Radio France. Orchestra: New Philharmonic Orchestra London. Conductor: Armin Jordan.
    • Erato 2292454072.
    • Erato.
    • 7.

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