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L'Aube [Dawn]

Instrumentation: mixed choir a cappella
Divisi: SSSAAATTTBBB / ssaattbbb (soloists)*
Duration: 9:00 (4', 5')
Year Composed: 2016
Text: Victor Hugo [in French]
Commmissioner: Pro Coro Canada
with the support of Queen's University
  1. Une Alcôve au soleil levant [An Alcove in the Rising Sun]
  2. Demain, dès l’aube [At Dawn Tomorrow]

Dedicated to Michael Zaugg

*The soloists join the others (cogli altri) as much as possible. They are not to be spatially separated from the massed choir; instead, solo strands emerge and recede from the body of sound.


Complete Audio

I. Une Alcôve au soleil levant [An Alcove in the Rising Sun]

II. Demain, dès l’aube [At Dawn Tomorrow]

Performed by Pro Coro Canada, conducted by Michael Zaugg, in Edmonton, AB, at All Saints' Cathedral (May 29, 2016). Posted with the kind permission of Pro Coro Canada.


Program Notes

Responding to a request from Michael Zaugg, Music Director of Pro Coro Canada, for a work using texts in French that address the theme "light and shadow", and a musical setting that would contrast the massed choir with a solo octet, I poured over countless French poems by various authors. I found myself returning again and again to those by Victor Hugo. Their vivid descriptions, raw emotion and dramatic flair remind me in some ways of Walt Whitman whose poetry I find equally arresting. I also noticed that Hugo routinely resorts to metaphors of light and darkness; the title of one collection, for instance, is Les Rayons et les ombres [Sunlight and Shadows].

Ultimately I settled on two poems as the basis for a musical diptych entitled L'Aube [Dawn]. The first, tranquil in mood and filled with wonderment, describes a simple scene: the rising sun illuminating the closed eyes of a sleeping baby girl. The second narrates the speaker's intended journey, from dawn to dusk and across a mountain pass, to meet someone who awaits him, perhaps a lover. But the narrative takes a devastating turn when we realize that the destination is the addressee's grave. The poem's autobiographical inspiration makes it that much more poignant: Hugo is mourning the death of a daughter who drowned as a young woman. By prefacing this heartbreaking poem with one that celebrates life I attempt to further dramatize the tragedy while embracing broader questions of life and death, and of parent-child relationships. Images of light and darkness permeate both poems, literally and figuratively, something I draw out by scoring for heavily divided choir (SSSAAATTTBBB) that makes frequent use of a variety of solo textures (up to ssaattbbb).—R.R.


Performances

  • May 29, 2016—Pro Coro Canada
    Michael Zaugg, cond. All Saints' Cathedral, Edmonton, AB
  • May 19, 2016—Pro Coro Canada & Opus 8
    Michael Zaugg, cond. Podium 2016. All Saints' Cathedral, Edmonton, AB

Reviews

L'Aube (The Dawn), setting two poems by Victor Hugo, shows a different side of [Rival's] art, much more harmonically daring, and exploring modern choral techniques while maintaining the sense of story-telling that seems to be at the heart of his esthetic. The first poem, about a child sleeping, was especially arresting. It's full of contrasts, sometimes almost approaching Gregorian chant, at others using more extreme vocal effects. There were some unexpected and thoughtful touches, such as the chorus going up in pitch on the final word of "a child sleeps" when most composers would instinctively have gone down, and an effective sense of underlying movement, rather like those a child might make when asleep.

It was, I think, the most impressive music I have heard from Rival, and the second song, quieter in tone, nearly matched it, the sounds of dawn at the opening reminding me of the little echoes one gets first thing on a crisp winter morning. The change at the end, when the listener realizes that the poet is visiting a grave, was well-handled, too. So was the choral writing, providing just the combination of solo lines, small internal groups and the full choir that Pro Coro thrives on.

—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, May 29, 2016

Text

I. Une Alcôve au soleil levant [An Alcove in the Rising Sun]

from Les Chansons des rues et des bois (1865) by Victor Hugo

L’humble chambre a l’air de sourire ;
Un bouquet orne un vieux bahut ;
Cet intérieur ferait dire
Aux prêtres : Paix ! aux femmes : Chut !

Au fond une alcôve se creuse.
Personne. On n’entre ni ne sort.
Surveillance mystérieuse !
L’aube regarde : un enfant dort.

Une petite en ce coin sombre
Était là dans un berceau blanc,
Ayant je ne sais quoi dans l’ombre
De confiant et de tremblant.

Elle étreignait dans sa main calme
Un grelot d’argent qui penchait ;
L’innocence au ciel tient la palme
Et sur la terre le hochet.

Comme elle sommeille ! Elle ignore
Le bien, le mal, le cœur, les sens,
Son rêve est un sentier d’aurore
Dont les anges sont les passants.

Son bras, par instants, sans secousse,
Se déplace, charmant et pur ;
Sa respiration est douce
Comme une mouche dans l’azur.

Le regard de l’aube la couvre ;
Rien n’est auguste et triomphant
Comme cet œil de Dieu qui s’ouvre
Sur les yeux fermés de l’enfant.

II. Demain, dès l’aube [At Dawn Tomorrow]

from Les Contemplations (1856) by Victor Hugo

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne.
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps.

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées,
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit,
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées,
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit.

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe,
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur,
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur.


Score Perusal & Purchase

Windermere String Quartet: Inner Landscapes Included in the Pro Coro Canada Choral Series. View a perusal score and purchase digital copies for your choir's next performance.