Fondation Napoléon: Is the concert designed for a special occasion?
Peter Hicks: Since 2004, the Fondation has organised either Study Days or Concerts. The musical highlights of the last 14 years were in 2004 and 2010. The former was a celebration/commemoration of Napoleon’s coronation and consecration in 1804 and the latter took as its theme Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise in 1810. Both concerts included music not performed since Napoleon’s time. This concert for four soloists, choir and orchestra in May 2018 is a celebration/commemoration of Napoleon’s life from the Empire to St Helena.
Fondation Napoléon: And the programme?
Peter Hicks: Well, it’s structured loosely chronologically and thematically. We begin with Méhul’s 1807 version of the “Chant de Retour”, which raises the idea of a second Boulogne camp to end the war. We then move to Charles-Simon Catel’s 1809 triumphal celebration of peace with Austria and the coronation. We continue with Napoleon’s favourite tune known as the “Quartet from Lucile” (“Où peut-on être mieux qu’au sein de sa famille”), going to a piece written by Etienne-Nicolas Méhul to honour the birth of the Roi de Rome in 1811. We finish with a glance at St Helena, via Vierne’s organ and brass fanfare for the centenary of Napoleon, Berlioz’s “Le cinq Mai”, and the unknown Madame M.’s evocation of Napoleon’s tomb on St Helena. We close with Fauré’s funeral song for wind orchestra composed for the centenary of Napoleon’s death (1921) and Méhul’s rousing national anthem, “Le chant du depart”.
Fondation Napoléon: This is not what you could call a concert of famous tunes.
Peter Hicks: That’s true. Apart from the Berlioz and the “Chant du depart”, the programme is both unknown and even not previously published. For example, the triumphal hymn for the birth of the Roi de Rome remained in manuscript, held at the Paris Bibliothèque Nationale. Indeed there are charming specificities in it. Clearly the piece lasted too long, so Méhul had to make cuts. The manuscript bears evidence of these, with some staves crossed out, and a large section of the conducting score still bears the bent pages where the cuts were made. It’s always fun when you get a sense of the performance from the paper. We’ll be following those cuts. Parts of Grétry’s quartet and Catel’s triumphal celebration exist only in manuscript form. The Napoleonic singers for example had their own booklet, with just their line in it, rather like instrumental music, unlike modern scores where singers usually have a piano reduction below their notes. So this is going to be an extraordinary occasion with music performed for the first time in 200 years. Musical archaeology and also re-enactment. Should be great fun!