Department or Program
Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor
Les nuits d’été is a collection of songs by Hector Berlioz with texts by Théophile Gautier. It is a rare jewel of the art song repertoire because of its genre: it is one of the first of few orchestral song cycles ever to be composed, and the only one from nineteenth century France that is well known today. Another fascinating aspect of the work is its unconventional origin: it was initially composed for voice and piano in 1840-1841, and not fully orchestrated until 1856. Without question, the orchestral version has been the work to withstand the test of time; though the piano-voice version represents Berlioz’s original vision for the songs, it is rarely performed and far less admired today. It is Berlioz’s masterful orchestration that sent the initially admired piano version into obscurity and propelled the orchestral version into the limelight in the decades following his death.
My thesis explores Berlioz’s reasons for composing and orchestrating Les nuits d’été. I will compare the text settings of the orchestral version to those of the original with piano accompaniment in order to understand exactly how Berlioz used the orchestra to express the text. For the performance portion of my thesis, I will perform Les nuits d’été in the context of my Senior Voice Recital. I use the orchestral piano-reduction in preparation for a future performance of the work with orchestra. The detailed analysis of Berlioz’s songs- from historical and critical perspectives as presented here- shape my performance.