Author Topic: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)  (Read 3327 times)

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robnewman

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Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« on: June 21, 2009, 06:45:03 AM »

(From Article in 'Grove' Dictionary of Music and Musicians)

Delibes, (Clément Philibert) Léo

French composer. His father was in the postal service, while his mother, an able musician, was the daughter of an opera singer and niece of the organist Edouard Batiste. Léo, the only child, learnt music from his mother and uncle; after his father’s death in 1847 the family moved to Paris, where he entered Tariot’s class at the Conservatoire. He obtained a premier prix in solfège in 1850 and later studied the organ with Benoist and composition with Adolphe Adam. His Conservatoire career was without distinction, and he never entered for the Prix de Rome. He was a chorister at Ste Marie-Madeleine and sang as a boy in the première of Meyerbeer’s Le prophète at the Opéra in 1849. At the age of 17 he became organist of St Pierre-de-Chaillot and also accompanist at the Théâtre Lyrique. Although he remained a church organist until 1871, Delibes was clearly drawn more to the theatre. For a short time around 1858 he wrote criticism for the Gaulois hebdomadaire under the pseudonym Eloi Delbès, but he found his métier at Hervé’s highly successful Folies-Nouvelles, where in 1856 his first stage work was played. Deux sous de charbon, an ‘asphyxie lyrique’ in one act, was the first of his many light operettas, appearing henceforth roughly one a year for 14 years. Many were written for the Bouffes-Parisiens, Offenbach’s theatre, including his second piece, Deux vieilles gardes, which enjoyed enormous success, largely due to his gift for witty melody and lightness of touch.

In 1863 the Théâtre Lyrique mounted Delibes’ Le jardinier et son seigneur, an opéra comique and an attempt at a less frivolous genre. As chorus master at the Théâtre Lyrique he worked on Gounod’s Faust (the vocal score of which was Delibes’ arrangement), Bizet’s Les pêcheurs de perles and Berlioz’s Les Troyens à Carthage. In 1864 he became chorus master at the Opéra, where new opportunities of far-reaching importance presented themselves. In 1866 he appeared for the first time as a ballet composer, sharing the composition of La source with Louis Minkus; the work was highly successful, especially Delibes’ share of it. In 1869 he composed his last operetta, La cour du roi Pétaud, for the Variétés.

The decisive advance in Delibes’ career came with the ballet Coppélia, ou La fille aux yeux d’émail, played at the Opéra on 2 May 1870. Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann, it has remained one of the best loved of all classical ballets and shows Delibes’ musical gifts at their most appealing. In 1871 he gave up his duties at the Opéra and as an organist, married Léontine Estelle Denain and devoted himself wholly to composition. He now wrote fewer works, but they were larger in scale and conception. In 1873 the Opéra-Comique staged Le roi l’a dit, a comedy set in the time of Louis XIV, and in 1876 his second full-scale ballet Sylvia, on a mythological subject, was played at the Opéra. Jean de Nivelle, a more serious work, was an immediate success in 1880, although it was only once revived. In 1881 Delibes succeeded Reber as composition professor at the Conservatoire, despite his own admission that he knew nothing of fugue and counterpoint. In 1882 he wrote six pieces in elegant pastiche for Hugo’s play Le roi s’amuse, and his opera Lakmé appeared at the Opéra-Comique on 14 April 1883 in a particularly splendid production (see illustration). Its success was lasting; the oriental colour, the superb part for the title role, a well-constructed libretto and the real charm of the music, all contributed to a work on which, with the ballets, Delibes’ fame has rested. Delibes’ last years were honoured and comfortable. In 1884 he was elected to the Institute. Another opera, Kassya, was completed but not orchestrated at his death in 1891. The scoring was undertaken by Massenet and the first performance given at the Opéra-Comique in 1893.

Henri Maréchal described Delibes as ‘restless, fidgety, slightly befuddled, correcting and excusing himself, lavishing praise, careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings, shrewd, adroit, very lively, a sharp critic’. A natural spontaneity and straightforwardness in his character was leavened by a certain lack of confidence, which increased as time went on. He admired Wagner and made the pilgrimage to Bayreuth in 1882, but like many French composers he found it impossible to let extreme modernisms enter his style. He regarded Franck’s music with equal caution. His early music clearly belongs to the tradition of Boieldieu, Hérold and his teacher Adam, the last of whom provided the example of a sparkling operetta style; the more ambitious scale and elevated tone of his later works may be attributed to a determination to break out of Offenbach’s milieu and prove himself as a composer of ballet and opera. His early admiration for Meyerbeer then became more evident, especially in Jean de Nivelle, and the contingency of Gounod, Bizet and Lalo may be observed. Delibes and Bizet had much in common and admired each other’s work but were never close friends. They both contributed an act to Malbrough s’en va-t-en guerre in 1867, and Delibes was present at the première of Carmen in 1875. Lakmé is clearly indebted to both Les pêcheurs de perles and Carmen, and the similarities of the two composers’ harmonic and orchestral nuances are often striking. Tchaikovsky’s admiration for Delibes was unqualified, and even if Swan Lake was composed before he had heard either Coppélia or Sylvia, they were men of like minds and sympathies, and their works dominate the late 19th-century heritage of ballet.

In notices of Delibes’ early music the same terms frequently recur: wit, charm, elegance, grace, colour, lightness. As an operetta composer he excelled at character numbers, such as the bolero in Six demoiselles à marier, the ‘Romance on three notes’ in Les eaux d’Ems or the serpent’s song in Le serpent à plumes. Coppélia owes much of its success to the same gifts, with its mazurka, waltz, csárdás and bolero and its melodic abundance. Sylvia is a more sophisticated ballet score, though equally tuneful and danceable. The barcarolle is scored for alto saxophone; the ballet’s most famous number, the ‘Pizzicati’, is traditionally played in a halting, hesitant style that appears to have been no part of Delibes’ conception. Le roi l’a dit is a light opera in which elaborate vocal ensembles and witty pastiche play a major part. Jean de Nivelle combines a weightier tone after the manner of Meyerbeer and Lalo with a disconcertingly light style in such pieces as ‘Moi! j’aime le bruit de bataille’. The chorus ‘Nous sommes les reines d’un jour’ is set to shifting time signatures and a modal melody of striking originality.

Delibes’ masterpiece is Lakmé, which offers more than just a fine vehicle for a star soprano; the two principal male characters, Nilakantha and Gérald, are firmly drawn, and the music is melodic, picturesque and theatrically strong. Only in dramatic recitative did Delibes verge on the conventional. Kassya, his last work, has a Galician setting with oriental inflections in the music. The vocal writing is of the highest quality, and there is a fine close to the first scene of Act 3, with snow falling on the deserted stage.

Outside the theatre (for which Delibes wrote nearly all his music) his most notable work was as a composer of choruses, now undeservedly neglected. His output of songs was relatively small and that of instrumental and church music almost negligible. His cantata Alger (1865) attracted much attention at the time but has lain in obscurity since. Despite his poor record at the Conservatoire his workmanship was of the highest order; he had a natural gift for harmonic dexterity and a sure sense of orchestral colour, and nothing in his music is out of place. He was a disciplined composer, and it is tempting to see in the exquisite pastiche dances that he composed in 1882 for Hugo’s Le roi s’amuse not just a sharp ear for style but a genuine feeling for the world of 17th-century French classicism, later to be espoused with such ardour by Saint-Saëns, d’Indy and Debussy.

Leo Delibes
Prelude to Opera, 'Coppelia'


http://www.mediafire.com/?lo1ikmwmyny





Offline Herman

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #1 on: June 21, 2009, 11:59:08 AM »
Wonderful composer. Coppelia is one of the all-time great ballets and the music is just sheer delight.

Drasko

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #2 on: June 21, 2009, 01:16:07 PM »
Wonderful composer. Coppelia is one of the all-time great ballets and the music is just sheer delight.

What would be your preferred recordings/performances for Coppelia and Sylvia, both audio and on DVD.

Offline Herman

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #3 on: June 21, 2009, 11:36:48 PM »
What would be your preferred recordings/performances for Coppelia and Sylvia, both audio and on DVD.

Coppelia Audio: Nagano / Lyon is very good, and also very cheap, I believe
DVD: Royal Ballet with Leanne Benjamin.

For Sylvia:
Audio: Mogrelia on Naxos
DVD: Royal Ballet with Darcey Bussell

The Kirov Coppelia DVD has great audio, but the choreography is wrong.

Drasko

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2009, 08:08:47 AM »
Excellent, thank you! I think I'll go for DVDs. Though have to say I was very much taken by youtube excerpts of John Neumeier's Sylvia with Aurélie Dupont at Paris Opera, will definitely have to get that one too. Not to your liking, that one?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBirmGosMQw
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3FGAbF78NDA
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU7oJ9PelT4


robnewman

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2009, 11:55:29 AM »
Wonderful composer. Coppelia is one of the all-time great ballets and the music is just sheer delight.

Yes Herman, I think Coppelia is one of the finest ballet scores I've ever heard.

 

Offline ChamberNut

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #6 on: March 27, 2013, 04:29:57 PM »
Aha!!  There is a Leo Delibes thread after all.  *Major bump!*  ;D

mc ukneal, paging!!!  8)
Location:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Offline ChamberNut

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #7 on: March 27, 2013, 04:48:33 PM »
Oh my goodness.  Just realized the Delibes thread was conceived by none other than our infamous Mr. Newman.  Surely, there is a conspiracy theory that Delibes was the one who composed all of Tchaikovsky's ballets!  8) :laugh:
Location:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Offline ChamberNut

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #8 on: March 27, 2013, 05:10:54 PM »
I loved my first listen this week to Sylvia.  Fantastic music.  Very much reminiscent (for me) of some of the dramaticism contained in Swan Lake.  Beautiful work.  I will be revisiting both Coppelia and Sylvia in the near future.  :)
Location:  Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Offline Rinaldo

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Re: Leo Delibes (1836-1891)
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2014, 02:19:11 AM »
Instant love! Listened to Lakmé today and really enjoyed it, which is something I can rarely say about opera composed in the 19th century / romantic composers in general.