JACQUES OFFENBACH Barcarolle
Continuing her series featuring new arrangements of classical favourites Bridget Mermikides turns her hand to a brilliant cellist and composer.
The most famous extract from the Tales Of Hoffmann gets the full Bridget Mermikides arrangement and transcription treatment.
Jacques Offenbach (1819-80) was a German-born composer and virtuoso cellist, who trained at the Paris Conservatoire from the age of 14. He was also a remarkably prodigious and influential composer of the operetta genre. An operetta is a slightly loosely defined relation of the opera, and is characterised by ‘lighter’ story lines and musical treatment and the use of dialogue between the songs, with English composers Gilbert & Sullivan being probably the best-known practitioners of the style. In many ways the operetta can be seen as a precursor (and the intersection with opera) of musical theatre. As such Offenbach can be seen as a forefather of the cultural phenomenon of the modern musical.
Tales Of Hoffman was Offenbach’s last composition project, written by the French writer Jules Barbier and based on three short stories by the influential German writer ETA Hoffmann. Offenbach was commissioned to compose the score, but sadly died a year before the scheduled premiere; hence the score was completed by his colleagues.
An extremely popular piece of music in Tales Of Hoffman appears in the opening of Act II Belle Nuit, ô Nuit d’Amour (also known as Barcarolle) a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, which is often arranged instrumentally. The text – which speaks of the beauty of love and the night - coupled with the beguiling melody and 6/8 feel, is cut with a sinister undertone reinforced by the duplicitous character, Giulietta. Offenbach clearly liked the melody as it is a re-use from an 1864 piece (this recycling is both an historical and current staple of media composers) and reappears later in Tales Of Hoffman. Here, I’ve managed to keep the original key of D major using drop D tuning and reduced the long instrumental introduction of the original to a more idiomatically appropriate section (bars 1-17) which is characterised by arpeggios and chords often over a pedal (a held – in this case bass A - note against changing harmonies from bar 10). The main melody from bar 18 should be flowing and legato, with the 3rds (as in bars 29-31) comfortably under your fingers in order to achieve this. The tab captions will guide you through the various challenges, but are worth the effort as this timeless work feels very natural on solo guitar.
NEXT MONTH Bridget gets to grips with Ma Vlast (My Homeland) by Smetana
operett a is a loo sely defined relation of th e opera, characterised by light er sto ry lines and musical treatment with dialogue between songs
Jacques Offenbach was a prodigious composer in the operetta style