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Paradise and the Peri

Robert Schumann
(1810-56)



Schumann's secular oratorio, "Paradise and the Peri," was written in 1843, and first performed at the Gewandhaus, Leipzig, December 4 of that year. Its first performance in England was given June 23, 1856, with Madame Jenny Lind-Goldschmidt in the part of the Peri. The text is taken from the second poem in Moore's "Lalla Rookh," and was suggested to Schumann by his friend Emil Flechsig, who had translated the poem. The oratorio is written in three parts, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, the principals being the Peri, soprano; the angel, alto; the King of Gazna, bass; a youth, tenor; the horseman, baritone; and the maiden, soprano. The choruses are sung by Indians, angels, houris, and genii of the Nile, and the part of narrator is divided among the various voices.

After a brief orchestral introduction, the narrator, alto, tells the story of the disconsolate Peri at the gate, and introduces her in the first solo ("How blest seem to me, vanished Child of Air!"), a tender, beautiful melody, characterized by romantic sentiment. The narrator, tenor, introduces the angel, who delivers her message to the Peri ("One Hope is thine"), to which the latter replies in a sensuous melody, full of Oriental color ("I know the Wealth hidden in every Urn"). The narrator introduces at this point a quartet ("Oh beauteous Land"), in which the two trebles, tenor, and bass alternate, followed by a full, powerful chorus ("But crimson now her Rivers ran"). A weird march, fairly barbaric in its effect, indicates the approach of the tyrant of Gazna, and introduces the stirring chorus of the Indians and conquerors ("Hail to Mahmoud!"). The tenor narrator describes the youthful warrior standing alone beside his native river an defying the tyrant. Once more the chorus shouts its greeting to Mahmoud, and then ensues a dialogue in recitative between the two, leading up to the youth's death and a double chorus of lamentation ("Woe! for false flew the Shaft"). The tenor narrator describes the flight of the Peri to catch the last drop of blood shed for liberty; and then all the voices join with the soprano solo in a broad, strong, exultant Finale ("For Blood must holy be"), which is one of the most effective numbers in the work.





The second part opens in the most charming manner. The tenor narrator pictures the return of the Peri with her gift, leading up to the angel's solo ("Sweet is our Welcome"), which preludes a brief choral passage for sixteen female voices. After the narrator's declaration of her disappointment, the scene changes to Egypt, and in a dainty, delicate, three-part chorus the spirits of the Nile are invoked not to disturb the Peri. Her lament is heard ("O Eden, how longeth for thee my Heart!"), and the spirits now weave a gentle, sympathetic strain with her song. A long tenor narration follows ("Now wanders forth the Peri sighing"), describing the pestilence brooding over the Egyptian plains, set to characteristic music. The scene of the maiden dying with her lover is full of pathos, and contains two exquisite numbers -- the narrative solo for mezzo-soprano ("Poor Youth, thus deserted"), and the dying love-song of the maiden ("Oh, let me only breathe the Air, Love!")! . The scene closes with a sweet and gentle lament for the pair ("Sleep on"), sung by the Peri, followed by the chorus, which joins in the pathetic farewell.

The third part opens with a lovely chorus of houris ("Wreathe ye the Steps to great Allah's Throne"), interspersed with solos and Oriental in its coloring. The tenor narration ("Now Morn is blushing in the Sky"), which is very melodious in character, introduces the angel, who in an alto solo ("Not yet") once more dooms the Peri to wander. Her reply ("Rejected and sent from Eden's Door") is full of despair. The narration is now taken by the baritone in a flowing, breezy, breezy strain ("And now o'er Syria's rosy Plain"), which is followed by a charming quartet of Peris ("Say, is it so?"). Once more the baritone intervenes, followed by the Peri; and then the tenor narrator takes up the theme in stirring description of the boy nestling amid the roses, and the "passion-stained" horseman at the fountain. The alto proclaims the vesper call to prayer, and the tenor reflects upon the memories of the wretched man as he sees the child kneeling. The solo baritone announces his repentance, followed by a quartet and chorus in broad, full harmony ("Oh blessed Tears of true Repentance!"). The next number is a double one composed of soprano and tenor solos with chorus ("There falls a Drop on the Land of Egypt"). In an exultant triumphant strain ("Joy, Joy forever, my Work is done!") the Peri sings her happiness, and the chorus brings the work to a close with the heavenly greeting ("Oh, welcome 'mid the Blessed!").





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