This oratorio was not planned by Berlioz initially as one opus. It was conceived by accident and developed one piece at a time over a longer time period. The Flight from Egypt was written initially in 1850. Berlioz related the circumstances in which he wrote it in his 'Les Grotesques de la Musique. The Arrival at Sais was composed in 1853. The Song of Herod was composed in the early part of 1854. The Holy Family at Rest was written in 1853 and this piece's success motivated Berlioz to complete and enlarge the composition. He finally felt that he caught the right essence of this Biblical work. L'Enfance du Christ was given its premiere in Paris in December 1854 and was received successfully. This was a big change for him because his La Damnation de Faust was not so well received here eight years earlier in 1846. Berlioz was mostly drawing on his past memories while composing this oratorio. The memory that influenced him was his initial communion at La Cote Saint Andre. His teacher, Lesueur, introduced numerous oratorios to Berlioz on biblical subjects. The Nocturnal March makes up the first scene of this work and is orchestrated in a unique way. It is scored delicately for smaller ensemble. The setting depicts a Jerusalem street at night time. The march represents the patrolling of Roman soldiers. This piece forms an ideal setting for the scenes that have to follow, particularly the aria of Herod, his approach with the soothsayers and his edict of carrying out the massacre of all new born children. The Dance of the Soothsayers is also a short piece. This is Berlioz's most original pieces with a macabre and satanic impact. There are fluctuations in the tonal effect and the metre also alternates between quadruple and triple time. It has its influence from Gluck and Carl Maria von Weber. The Flight to Egypt is scored for a modest ensemble like the remainder of the work and it is quite subdued when it comes to tonality. The main theme of this Flight is taken from the Nocturnal March earlier from the work. The trio for a couple of flutes and harp depicts an Ishmaelite father who welcomes Mary and Joseph into his home and he gets his children to perform this trio to calm his guests down. It is one of the scanty instrumental pieces written by Berlioz to make up this work.
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
André Cluytens, conductor