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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Florent Schmitt - Salammbô (Jacques Mercier)


Composer: Florent Schmitt
  1. Salammbô, Op. 76: Première suite: Le Palais silencieux - Festin des Barbares
  2. Salammbô, Op. 76: Première suite: Au Gynécée - Fuite de Mathô avec le Zaimph
  3. Salammbô, Op. 76: Deuxième suite: Sous la tente
  4. Salammbô, Op. 76: Deuxième suite: Récit du Vieillard - Le champ de cadavres du Macar les frondeurs baléares
  5. Salammbô, Op. 76: Troisième suite: Le Pacte de Guerre - Au Conseil des anciens
  6. Salammbô, Op. 76: Troisième suite: Le défilé de la hache - Cortège d'Hamilcar
  7. Salammbô, Op. 76: Troisième suite: Supplice de Mathô

Chœur de l'Armée française
Yves Parmentier, chorus master
Orchestre National d'Île-de-France
Jacques Mercier, conductor

Date: 1991
Label: Ades



When the producer and director of the 1925 silent film of Flaubert's Salammbo asked Florent Schmitt to provide a two-hour score for it, they may well have had in mind, besides his acknowledged reputation as a creator of exotic, opulently barbaric scores (La tragedie de Salome, Les Dionysiaques and the saxophone Legende, for example), his extraordinary facility: besides his work as a critic and, for a time, director of the Lyon Conservatoire, he already had to his credit a vast output of large-scale works conceived and elaborated with the utmost seriousness and skill. Schmitt did not skimp this time or adopt short cuts like the ostinatos or plain repetitions to which less conscientious film-music composers resort (though because of the pressure of time he felt obliged to incorporate short passages from previous works of his); and he thought well enough of his score, after well-deserved oblivion had fallen on the film, to extract three orchestral suites from it. The story, of a Carthaginian priestess who falls in love with Matho, leader of the mercenaries attacking the city, who steals the sacred veil from the temple—with fatal consequences for them both—offered plenty of opportunity for colour; and the suite, recorded here, again demonstrates Schmitt's mastery in handling a very large orchestra and his imaginative creation of atmosphere.

The opening pages, depicting a silent palace, are already remarkably evocative (though you'll need to turn the volume up in order to hear them properly), and one could scarcely have more voluptuous music (with quite simple means) than the scene where Salammbo lies asleep. Both these movements are in the first suite, arguably the best of the three able to lead an independent concert existence. A chorus is employed only in the third suite: its words here are not clear and are not given, but perhaps they are not of great importance. In view of Schmitt's vivid writing (especially in the impressive musical scene of Matho's death) it is a pity that he never wrote a score for sound films except for a documentary on trains: he would have rivalled the existing masters of the genre. Meanwhile it is a matter of regret, and indeed of reproach, that none of these three sumptuous scores is in the repertoire of any of our major orchestras; but the splendid performance here by the Ile de France orchestra (founded only 20 years ago) could well act as a stimulus to their adoption. Cordially recommended to all those with an appreciation of virtuoso orchestral writing and playing.

-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone

More info & reviews:


Florent Schmitt (28 September 1870 – 17 August 1958) was a French composer. He was part of the group known as Les Apaches. At the age of 19 he entered the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied with Gabriel Fauré, Jules Massenet, Théodore Dubois, and Albert Lavignac. Schmitt wrote 138 works with opus numbers. His most famous pieces are La tragédie de Salome and Psaume XLVII (Psalm 47). His own style, recognizably impressionistic, owed something to the example of Debussy, though it had distinct traces of Wagner and Richard Strauss also.


Jacques Mercier (born in Metz in 1945) is a French conductor. He studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and won first prize in 1972. Between 1982 and 2002, Mercier was artistic director and permanent conductor of the Orchestre National d’Île-de-France. He has also served as Resident Conductor of the Turku Philharmonic in Finland for seven years. he was appointed permanent conductor and musical director of the Orchestre National de Lorraine in 2002. He also appears in the films "L'effrontée" (1985) and "La femme de ma vie" (1986).


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