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The Beatitudes

César Franck
(1822-90)



"The Beatitudes," written in 1870 and published in 1880, the text, a poetical paraphrase of the Gospel, by Lady Colomb, is divided into nine parts -- a prologue and eight beatitudes. The prologue, an impressive number, is set for tenor solo ("Dark brooded Fear over the Land"), and celestial chorus (Oh, blessed be He!") with orchestra.


First Beatitude

("Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.")

The first beatitude opens with a passionate and energetic terrestrial chorus ("All the Wealth of the Earth"). The celestial chorus softly responds ("When our Hearts are oppressed"). The voice of Christ is now heard in a song ("Blessed be") of exquisite tenderness and beauty, which is taken up by the celestial chorus with a rich accompaniment, and closes the beatitude.


Second Beatitude

("Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.")

The second beatitude, introduced by the oboe with a tremolo accompaniment of the strings, opens with the terrestrial chorus ("The Earth is dark"), followed by the celestial chorus ("Poor human Souls"). The voice of Christ closes the number with the tender strain ("Oh, blessed are the Meek").


Third Beatitude

("Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.")

The third beatitude opens with the strongest chorus in the work ("Grief over all Creatures"). It is followed by a mother’s lament over the empty cradle; the wail of the orphan over its wretched state; the sorrow of husband and wife over separation; and the slave’s prayer for liberty. As the different voices unite in a farewell, the gentle voice of Christ is heard again ("Blessed are the Mourners"), followed by an inspiriting celestial chorus ("Oh, blessed forever").


Fourth Beatitude

("Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.")

After an impressive and mystical prelude the fourth beatitude is introduced by a dramatic tenor solo ("Where’er we stray, stern Fate enthralls us"), and concludes with another of the gentle melodies of the Christ voice ("Oh, happy he").


Fifth Beatitude

("Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.")

A beautiful string quartet opens the fifth beatitude, followed by an expressive tenor solo ("Like beaten corn Sheaves"). In almost furious accord rises the appeal of the slaves ("King all glorious"), ever increasing in power and rising to a tremendous climax. The remainder of the beatitude is in striking contrast. First is heard the voice of Christ ("Vengeance belongeth"), followed by the celestial chorus for sopranos and tenors in unison ("Ever blessed are they"), which is one of the sweetest passages in the work. This in turn is followed by the song of the Angel of Forgiveness ("Holy love, sweet Pardon"), a repetition of the celestial chorus closing the number.





Sixth Beatitude

("Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.")

After a short prelude, which is scored with masterly skill, follows a chorus of heathen women ("The Gods, from us their faces turning") succeeded by a chorus of Jewish women ("Thou, who once to our Sires appeared"), the two afterwards uniting in a mass chorus of great beauty. Four Pharisees, after brief solos, unite in a descriptive quartet ("Great God! from early youth"). Then follows an impressive song by the Angel of Death ("I gather in each Soul immortal"). The celestial chorus responds gently ("Earthly Knowledge"). The voice of Christ intervenes ("Oh, blest are the Pure") and the chorus closes ("Then purge from your Hearts").


Seventh Beatitude

("Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.")

The seventh is one of the most dramatic sections of the work. It opens with a bitter and vehemently declamatory air by Satan ("’Tis I whose baneful Spell"). The effect grows more and more passionate and furious as one after the other choruses of tyrants, pagan priests, and the multitude enter. To them succeeds the tender voice of Christ ("Blessed are they"), followed by a remorseful wait from Satan ("Ah! that Voice") and the famous quintet of the peacemakers ("Evil cannot stay").


Eighth Beatitude

("Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.")

The last beatitude opens with another vehement outburst from Satan ("Not yet defeated"), followed by the chorus of the just ("Hear us, Justice eternal"). Satan once more breaks out in angry denunciation ("Insensates! this wild delusion") and gives place to the Mater Dolorosa, heard in the majestic song ("Stricken with Sorrow"). Satan recognizes his fate in another remorseful song ("Mine the Doom she hath spoken"). The tender strains of the Christ voice ("O ye Righteous!") are heard. Satan in a brief passage owns His power. The voice of Christ is heard for the last time gently calling ("Oh, come, ye of my Father beloved"), and the celestial chorus brings the work to a close with a grand hosanna.





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