Nikolay Tcherepnin (1873–1945)
Narcisse et Echo, Op. 40 (1911)
In 1909, Nikolay Tcherepnin (1873–1945), turned down a request from Diaghilev to write a Firebird ballet. The honor went to Stravinsky. However, there exists an orchestral sketch of Tcherepnin’s “Firebird” that came to be known as Le Royaume enchanté, op. 39, in order to avoid any confusion with Stravinsky’s masterpiece.
Two years later, when Diaghilev found that Ravel would not have time to compose the music to enable Daphnis et Chloé to be given during the next Paris season, he commissioned Tcherepnin to compose the music for a ballet in the “Grecian” style, Narcisse et Echo, to a scenario by Léon Bakst, after Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The premiere took place on 26 April 1911 in Monte Carlo, with the composer conducting. The scenery used was that for Daphnis et Chloé, designed by Bakst, and the choreography was by Mikhail Fokine. The principal roles of Echo and Narcissus were performed by Diaghilev’s leading dancers—Tamara Karsavina and Vatslav Nizhinsky.
Tcherepnin’s Narcisse et Echo is essentially a continuous score, in the manner of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, later produced by Diaghilev in 1912. One particular feature of the scoring is the use of a wordless chorus to represent Echo in the introduction to the ballet and in her scenes with Narcissus. According to Guy Richards:
The score dazzles . . . though the use of the small wordless chorus (for Echo herself) may sound a little hackneyed to [modern] ears. If the piece has a fault it is one of dramatic stasis: the ballet is nearly half over before Narcissus enters, and he spends the last quarter transfixed by his reflection in the pool. The music, though delectable, cannot but underline the lack of pace; as a concert piece without the visual element of the stage it requires pruning. That said, it is still full of beautiful things.1
The ballet was performed at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden by the Ballets Russes on 9 July 1912, again conducted by the composer. According to the reviewer for The Sunday Times:
The music to the ballet is extremely skillful and interesting. It is free as to design and is full of fresh and charming color effects, the xylophone and celeste being employed very happily, and a very notable feature is the use of a hidden chorus singing bouche fermée passages which seem to voice the inarticulate moods of nature.2
(Nauman 2009, 200–1)
|I. Un paysage panthéiste (A pantheistic landscape)
The curtain rises on a pantheistic landscape with fauns and woodland creatures asleep beneath the trees.
|V. Chants lointains (Distant Voices)
Distant wordless voices are heard: this is Narcissus whose phrase is repeated by Echo. Narcissus appears, keenly pursued by two infatuated nymphs. His dancing entrances the nymphs and the Boeotians, and they implore him to continue.
|VI. Danse de Narcisse (Danse of Narcissus)
He beguiles them with a new dance (Allegretto giocoso), but eventually stops to admire Echo. In a ‘poème dansé’ (Andantino mosso) they declare their love for one another to the accompaniment of the chorus ‘à bouche fermeé.’
|IX. L’arrivée Echo (Echo arrives)
Echo arrives, but she is unable to tear Narcissus away from his obsession. They struggle, but Echo realizes that all is lost: Narcissus is consumed with a passion for himself. In despair, exhausted and tearful, she leaves him prostrate before his own reflection.
|X. Narcisse se transforme en une fleur (Narcissus is transformed into a flower)
Narcissus is transformed into a white flower. Night falls. The moon can be seen through the trees, and fireflies glow fantastically in the darkness. To the same music heard at the opening of the ballet, the creatures of the woodland reappear on all sides to marvel at the sight of the flower admiring itself in the pond.
1 Guy Richards, review of, Narcisse et Echo, by Nikolai Tcherepnin, The Hague Choir, Residentie Orchestra, The Hague, Genady Rozhdestvensky, Tempo 213 (2000): 57.
2 Nesta Macdonald, Diaghilev Observed by Critics in England and the United States 1911–1929 (New York: Dance Horizons, 1975), 72.