Prelude and Processional

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Camille Saint-Saëns

Camille Saint-Saëns (arr. Jonathan Elkus)

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Subtitle: From the Opera "Henry VIII"

General Info

Year: 1883 / 1957
Difficulty: IV (see Ratings for explanation)
Original Medium: Orchestra
Publisher: Marks
Cost: Score and Parts – Out of print.


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None discovered thus far.

Program Notes

Although it remained a somewhat marginal work in the operatic repertoire for most of the twentieth century, Camille Saint-Saëns' operatic version of Shakespeare's Henry VIII enjoyed considerable success in the years following its premiere in March 1883. Despite the work's respectable runs in international venues, however, Saint-Saëns felt that the opera deserved a better reception. The composer would have been pleased to observe the handful of revivals the work enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s; likewise, contemporary audiences would find much to enjoy in this work, in which a powerfully dramatic narrative provides a suitable vehicle for Saint-Saëns' sophisticated compositional voice.

The opera, on a libretto by Pierre Léonce Détroyat and Paul Armand Silvestre (with several alterations and a few extensive additions by the composer), tells the story of Henry VIII's infamous rise to power in the beginning of the sixteenth century: his abandonment of Queen Catherine d'Aragon for Anne Boleyn, his subsequent confrontation with the Pope and the Roman Church, and finally, his (and his country's) rejection of Rome's authority. In an effort to evoke the story's historical context, Saint-Saëns researched English music from the period and incorporated several tunes into his score. The Prelude, for example, contains a number of English, Scottish, and Irish folk melodies, while the nationalistic bent of Henry's triumphant tirade against the Pope at the end of Act III is underscored by a forgotten air Saint-Saëns discovered in the library at Buckingham Palace. Still, it is drama rather than historical authenticity that drives the work. Cast in four acts, the work unfolds at a careful pace, with the various intertwining strands of the drama -- romantic, religious, political -- maintaining a constant tension until the ominous conclusion. Saint-Saëns repeatedly stated that he valued emotion and expression above all, and took particular pride in such emotionally charged scenes as the love duet between Henry and Anne in Act II and the quartet at the end of the opera's last act, in which Henry confronts the dying Queen Catherine, her replacement Anne (whose loyalty the king has begun to question), and Anne's former suitor Don Gomez. In the end, all succumb to the king's heavy hand.

- Program Note from Ohio Wesleyan University Symphonic Wind Ensemble concertprogram, 12 November 2017


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State Ratings

  • Maryland: IV
  • Tennessee: IV


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  • Ohio Wesleyan University (Delaware, Ohio) Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Larry Griffin, conductor) – 12 November 2017

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