Leif Segerstam: Henri Rabaud Night Procession, Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic

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Henri Rabaud - Night Procession (1897)
Conducted by Leif Segerstam with the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic Orchestra.

Henri Rabaud
 Henri Rabaud
In 1873, still suffering from the shock of defeat by Germany and of the Commune, France began little by little to recover. The Empire had given way to a Republic that was not without its paradoxes. On 24th May the Assembly thanked Thiers and then elected Marshal MacMahon, whose monarchist sympathies were well known, as head of state.

Intellectual and artistic life too no longer dwelt under the traumatic shadow of Sedan. In the field of music there had just been a notable initiative in the foundation by artists such as Camille Saint-Saëns, César Franck and Romain Bussine, of the Société Nationale de Musique, established on 17th November 1871. Under the motto Ars Gallica this last greatly assisted the growth of the golden age that then opened for French music.

It was in this transitional period that Henri Rabaud was born in Paris, on 10th November. It is difficult to imagine an environment better suited to the development of the child's musical gifts. He was the grandson of the flautist Louis Doris, the great-nephew of the soprano Dorus-Gras, creator of many rôles in the operas of Meyerbeer and Halévy, and the son of a well known cellist, a member of the Société des Concerts, Hippolyte Rabaud. His mother had been chosen by Gounod for the part of Marguerite at the first performance of his opera Faust on 19th March 1859.

From his earliest years Henri Rabaud found himself in a musical world dominated by the great classical composers. Often at home friends joined his father to play the trios and quartets of Mozart, Haydn or Beethoven. As a child he made a study of these works and by his own efforts acquired a very solid foundation in the theory of music. Attachment to the old masters, independence of spirit and a great mistrust of modernism were always to characterize his work. His study at the Conservatoire was a pure formality, since his teachers, Massenet, Taudou and Gédalge had little to give to a young man already provided with a solid technical foundation, crowned by the award of the Prix de Rome in 1894.

At the end of the nineteenth century Wagner inspired a number of followers in France. Each year this country provided the most important group of foreign pilgrims to the Bayreuth Festival. On the list of 1896, for example, we find, by the side of Alfred Cortot and his friend Edouard Risler, the name of Henri Rabaud, Prix de Rome, Paris. As for Vincent d'Indy a few years earlier, the discovery of the tetralogy of The Ring on the sacred mountain and, in general, contact with the world of German romanticism had a not inconsiderable influence on Rabaud. This was expressed in 1897 with the Procession Nocturne, Opus 6. This Symphonic Poem after Lenau, dedicated to Edouard Colonne, is one of the composer's finest orchestral works. It was inspired by an episode in Lenau's Faust, in the translation by V. Descreux.

Faust, filled with sad despair, wanders in the forest. The night is dense, but the troubled breath of spring blows sweetly in the wood, giving warmth and life. The sadness of the hero, insensible to the wonderful feelings of the voices of spring, is expressed in a first episode in F minor, Andante tranquillo, which starts pianissimo with a solo French horn, then a clarinet, over the soft roll of the bass drum, played with timpani sticks, and of muted violins.

What is this brightness that lights up the forest there, turning purple the foliage and sky with its flames? Whence come the gentle sounds of sacred melodies that seem made to give consolation for all earthly sorrows? ... Faust stops his horse ... A solemn procession approaches ¡K It is the Feast of St. John.

In the course of a second episode in C major, where wind instruments play a key part, supported only by cellos and double basses, the composer suggests first of all the approach of the procession by a very gradual crescendo that culminates in a forte, then its departure into the distance with a very gradual diminuendo, as the sound finally dies away.