Berlioz: L'enfance du Christ - Scene V

The Manger at Bethlehem

What strikes me at the beginning of this piece is its obvious pastoral tone. The lightness of the winds and brass in the opening is indicative of pastoral pieces. Pastoral scenes usually involved nature settings and often heavenly beings are present or active in the proceedings. A good example of this is the Pastoral play in Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades), in which the court of the queen presents a pastoral play that involves Cupid. This pastoral scene involves another heavenly body, that is Jesus. The six/eight time signature can often plod along slowly, especially at the walking andante that is indicated here. However, Berlioz avoids that by marking the beats not with straight eigth notes, but with the sixteenth, eigth, eigth, sixteenth pattern that appears throughout the movement. The flute line at measure five is a precursor of Mary, perhaps she is watching her son before commenting on him.

The beautiful theme that begins "Repands encor ces fleurs" is the beginning of the duet section between Mary and Joseph, which is repeated at rehearsal thirty-one but slightly differently. What's interesting to note is how Berlioz switches parts between Mary and Joseph in this section. THe first time they sing it, the line continues "Its sont heureux de tes dons..." and Mary has the more fluid, legato line while Joseph sings the same line on eigth notes. Later,a few measures after rehearsal thirty-one, their lines switch and Joseph now has the languid, legato line while Mary sings the eigth notes.

Things start changing where the animando section begins. Until this point, we have only heard Mary and Joseph talking about the young Jesus' actions. Now we hear what was only spoken of by Mary and Joseph. "Vois leurs jeux!" exclaims Joseph, "See the playing!" and indeed we do hear sounds of play in all of the instruments. Again, though, they are astonishingly brought back to the original tempo when they see the animal's mother not try to protect her young from the infant Jesus, but Mary and Joseph note that even she knows that the child will not hurt her young.

The scene as a whole is well-crafted and very symmetrical, although it may not seem that way at first hearing.

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