Bru Zane Classical Radio broadcasts on Sunday 7 January at 9 p.m. Le petit elfe Ferme-l’Œil (1912-23), ballet by Florent Schmitt (1870-1958).

Text after H.C. Andersen
First premiered on 1st December 1923 at the Concerts Colonne, Paris

Jacques Mercier conductor
Henri Demarquette cello
Aline Martin mezzo-soprano

It seems paradoxical that the author of vast oriental frescoes, erotic, bloody and barbarous, such as Salomé, Salammbô, Antoine et Cléopâtre and Oriane, would give in to fascination for the magical universe of childhood, to the point of enriching it with a contribution as perfect as the music that Andersen’s fairytale ‘Ole-Luk-Oie, the Dream-God’ inspired in him. The elf in question is the Nordic version of our Sandman: slipping every night into children’s rooms, he puts them to sleep and tells them wonderful stories that fill their dreams. His close friendship with Ravel might have had something to do with this; it was at the time when the latter was finishing the orchestration of the five pieces of Ma Mère l’Oye (originally for piano four hands) that Schmitt composed a suite for piano four hands inspired by Andersen’s tale and entitled Les Songes de Hialmar (‘Hjalmar’s Dreams’, 1912). These seven pieces were also the occasion for telling lovely stories in music (and in particular, stories about mice) to his ‘Raton’ [translator’s note: ‘little rat’ or, more affectionately, ‘pet’], the nickname given by the musician to his son Jean, aged six at the time… It was during the summer of 1923 that he orchestrated them, adding considerable preludes and interludes. The new choreographic score faced the footlights at the Opéra-Comique with great success, conducted by Albert Wolff and with Sonia Pavloff and Mona Païva heading the cast. For a temperament driven by an irrepressible joie de vivre like Schmitt’s, dance takes on the signification of a Dionysian symbol and, aside from Petit Elfe, two of his most beautiful orchestral scores resulted from choreographic projects: La Tragédie de Salomé and Oriane et le prince d’amour. Like Ravel (Daphnis), Dukas (La Péri) and Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring), he was one of the principal contributors to a genre that was particularly flourishing during the Art Nouveau period: the symphonic ballet. This genre, putting extreme richness of the orchestra and writing to serve dance, lies directly in the tradition of 19th-century Russian music.

‘Dreams are a second life. I was unable to break through, without shuddering, those gates of ivory or horn that separate us from the invisible world.’
Gérard de Nerval, Aurélia