Short Takes: Mid-May, with Hector Berlioz

Tents IMG_0547_edited-1On my most recent visit to New York City, I was foiled in my first attempt to see how spring was coming on in the Central Park Conservatory Garden. The scent of lilacs mixed with privilege wafted through the fence, and police were on hand to shoo away uninvited guests. Riverside Park, at least, remained open to ordinary blossom gazers, so that day I retraced my steps. The weather for a return trip to the Conservatory Garden wasn’t promising, but the rain stopped, the sun reappeared, and off I went in the summer-like heat.

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Listening List

Hector Berlioz, Les Nuits d’été

The text set may be found here, and an amusing bit of backstory about the poet, Théophile Gautier, here. From the article:

The rapid, mandarin brilliance of Gautier’s prose was widely recognized and admired, together with his famous facility. “It’s all a question of good syntax,” he would say. “I throw my sentences into the air…and like cats I know they will always land on their feet.”

I wonder whether the same would have been said of his poetry. In the case of Les Nuits d’été, I’d say he had a good bit of help from Berlioz . . .

On Spotify: Lorraine Hunt Lieberson

On YouTube: Véronique Gens

The one to purchase: Karen Cargill (soprano); Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Robin Ticciati, with thanks, once again, to David Nice for the recommendation.

About Karen Cargill

From the BBC Music Magazine Review of the CD:

Scottish star mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, in fact, has a remarkably beautiful voice, full of sunny delicacy and warmth but also capable of Wagnerian dramatics.

From The Arts Desk interview with Conductor Robin Ticciati:

Yes, where does it come from? [Cargill] gets up there and she’s gripped by it. And look, isn’t it one of those wonderful things, she is an ordinary, beautiful, honest Glasgow girl, and maybe it’s the idea of the music when she’s in front of it and in that moment releases something that ordinary life cannot grasp or get hold of, isn’t that the way with some people sometimes? She is a very special singer, and she was there at my very first concert with the SCO, we did the Death of Cleopatra in 2009. And so we got onto this Berlioz journey, I’m so thrilled.

Bonus Track: Listen to the opening of Benjamin Britten’s Villes from Les Illuminations side-by-side with the opening of Berlioz’s Villanelle from Les Nuits d’été: 

To listen on Spotify, click here.

On YouTube:

Villes (at 2:07) (Britten)

Villanelle (Berlioz)


A 27 IMG_0661_edited-1Postscript: While in New York City, I experienced another kind of beautiful blooming: a Contemporaneous concert, conducted by David Bloom.  The ensemble’s performance standard, already excellent, took yet another exponential leap. The concert photograph above includes featured guests Nitin Mitta on tabla and Aaron Shragge on tamboura in the world premiere of Michael Harrison‘s Tessellations. I can’t wait to see and hear what Contemporaneous does next. (For those on Facebook, more photographs of the concert may be found here.)


Credits: Quotations are from the sources linked in the text. The photographs, as always on the blog unless otherwise indicated, are mine.

13 thoughts on “Short Takes: Mid-May, with Hector Berlioz

  1. shoreacres

    The photos are glorious, as always. I especially enjoyed the wisteria, which is one of my favorites. And you have one photo of massed blossoms that’s thick with white flowers on the left and pink on the right. Do you know if the pink is flowering almond? We had that growing in our yard in Iowa, and I haven’t seen any in decades. It was the prettiest flower – ranging from white to pink, and so delicate.

    I must say, it was rather an exercise in patience to get through the text of Gautier’s poetry. I did persevere, and then rewarded myself with the sopranos. Lovely, lovely music. I especially enjoyed the Villanelle.

    I’ve always told myself I should attempt a poem using the villanelle form, but I haven’t quite gathered the courage yet. I have a friend who managed to write one, and she said that one would do her quite nicely, thank you very much. She intends to be buried with it in her coffin – a gesture Gautier might appreciate.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      shoreacres: I’m terrible at identification, but I think what you’re seeing is crabapple on the left, and cherry blossoms on the right. But others will know better, and will perhaps weigh in to correct this! I love your response on the Gautier/villanelle!

  2. Brigitta “Britta” Huegel

    Dear Sue,
    the beautiful slide-show with all the spring flowers like hare bells, tulips, daffodils, cherry and almond blossoms remind me of how quick this season rushes away – here in Berlin the foliage of the trees is thick green, the swallows came back, and finally the hot temperatures too. “The scent of lilacs mixed with privilege wafted through the fence” made me really laugh – you can be very witty! When I saw the wisterias in your slide show, I remembered that this year I have forgotten to see (and read) “Enchanted April” by Elizabeth von Arnim – I will quickly fetch up and put it into (almost gone) May… (I’m a bit late in everything this year).

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Britta: So pleased you enjoyed that little bon mot of mine! I’m not often witty, to say the least . . . I, too, am a bit late on everything this year. But isn’t it glorious to have spring, at last!

  3. David N

    Odd and net-wonderful, this phasing effect of seeing all the things which have now gone here – a few odd tulips at Glyndebourne excepted – in full glory. You remind me that I never look at lilac up close – thanks for those beauties. At the moment I’m iris-crazy: at Gbn there were some which were almost crepe-black.

    And so glad you approve of Cargill – one of the great voices already, I reckon (La Mort de Cleopatre is somehow even better).

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      David: “Phasing effect” is a wonderful way to put it. Reminds me of the double-take I always do when I see posts from wanderer and others from down under–though of course that is much more dramatic. Can’t thank you enough for the intro to Cargill–and to that CD. Agreed, La Mort de Cleopatre is absolutely splendid.

  4. friko

    Who needs ‘privilege’ when they have what you have here: spring with all its myriad pleasures accompanied by glorious music.

    Who says there are those more privileged than you.

    Your ‘protegees’ Contemporaneous appear to be going from strength to strength.

    1. Susan Scheid Post author

      Friko: Well, ain’t it the truth–though I was miffed, to say the least, to walk all the way over there and find out that this, a public space, mind you, was closed to the public on the first fine day we’d had in some little while. So, to that extent, there were those more privileged, but never mind . . . And yes, the Contemporaneous musicians and composers are definitely going from strength to strength, not to mention a whole slew of them graduating this year. As I’ve noted elsewhere, but I’ll put it here, so it’s on the “permanent” record, composer Dylan Mattingly, who graduated this year, garnered not one, not two, but three awards from Bard: the Lockwood Prize from President Leon Botstein for “contributing most to the intellectual life of Bard College,” another award for “exemplifying the ideals of the Music Conservatory,” and the Heinrich Bluecher Prize!

  5. Steve Schwartzman

    Your reference to Théophile Gautier brought me back almost half a century, to a time when I took a course on French poetry. Volume 3 of The Penguin Book of French Verse, which served as our textbook (and which I still have) includes three poems by Gautier. The one I remember best is “L’Art,” and the part of it that I remember most is the opening assertion:

    Oui, l’œuvre sort plus belle
    D’une forme au travaill
    Vers, marbre, onyx, émail.

    Yes, a work of art emerges more beautiful
    From a form that resists working:
    Verse, marble, onyx, enamel.

    My four years as a student at Columbia fell within the long period during which Jacques Barzun was a professor there, though I never took a course of his. The tie-in to your post is that he wrote a book you may know entitled Berlioz and His Century (

    New York literati were surprised—nay horrified—when Barzun moved, late in his life, to San Antonio. And my father, near the end of his life, on Long Island, had planned to visit Barzun as a side trip during one of his yearly visits to me in Austin, but he didn’t quite make it.

  6. Susan Scheid Post author

    Steve: What a marvelous trail of connection you’ve offered here! That is a wonderful quotation from Gautier, too. Interesting that a Penguin book of verse served as a textbook. I wonder what is used now. I didn’t know the Barzun book and am glad to learn of it. Thanks for all!

    1. Steve Schwartzman

      The Penguin Book of French Verse (of which we used volumes 2–4) contained poems in the original French along with straightforward prose translations in smaller print. Having all the originals made the series suitable as a textbook for a course taught in French.

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