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Paul Paray (1886-1979) composed the Pastorale de Noël in a single night* when he was a student in Paris. Although he would go on to compose works of greater significance, this charming dramatic oratorio already demonstrates the lyricism that distinguishes Paray's mature writing.
The Pastorale was written for solo voices and unison chorus (with an intemittent second voice) with piano accompaniment. In this form it was published by La Maison de la Bonne Presse. A copy of this edition, found in the Bibliotèque Nationale of Paris, seems to bear a stamped date of 1908. Sometime later an adaptation of the choral part for mixed voices was made by former students of the Maîtrise Saint-Evode, Rouen, an arrangement whose several flaws depreciate its merits.
The present edition follows the published score and a photocopy of a hand-written copyist's manuscript in the possession of the composer's daughter, Mrs. Monique Barthez. The choral part herein is an arrangement for mixed choir, borrowing certain ideas from the Maîtrise adaptation. The closing chorus has been expanded from sixteen to twenty-five measures. Deletion of measures 591-598 for solo soprano, and the final measure, 609, would restore the work to its original length.
This work lends itself to several possibilities in the distribution of the vocal forces:
- NARRATOR (Récitant), tenor (baritone).
- Solo parts that may be sung by the narrator or by one or more other solo voices: Voice of the SOULS IN LIMBO (measures 21-29); THE ANGEL GABRIEL (measures 87-101); JOSEPH (measures 171-175); THREE MAGI KINGS (measures 473~478; 555-581); individual MAGI KING (measures 479-521).
- THE VIRGIN MARY (measures 104-108; 176-180; 188-205; 374-411), [mezzo] soprano.
- Two passages that may be sung by the same voice, or yet by the narrator, or by another male or female voice: "Chant" (measures 147-162; 239-262).
- The CHOIR OFANGELS may be sung either by a children's choir or by sopranos of the mixed choir (measures 412-430).
Schema of the drama
1st tableau - The Souls in Limbo
2nd tableau - The Prophets
3rd tableau - The Annunciation
I - CHRISTMAS EVE
1st tableau - The Census
2nd tableau - Arrival of Mary and Joseph at Bethlehem
3rd tableau - Refusal of the Denizens of Bethlehem
4th tableau - At the Roadside
II - CHRISTMAS NIGHT
1st tableau - The Shepherds Watch their Flocks 2nd tableau - Apparition of the Angels
3rd tableau - Departure of the Shepherds
III - THE MANGER
1st tableau - Lullaby of the Virgin
2nd tableau - The Angels at the Crib
3rd tableau - Arrival of the Shepherds
4th tableau - Prayer of the Shepherds
IV - THE STAR AND rna MAGI
1st tableau - In the Land of the Magi
2nd tableau - The Star
3rd tableau - The Desert (March of the Magi Kings)
V - THE MAGI KINGS AT THE MANGER
1st tableau - Arrival of the Magi
2nd tableau - The Presents
3rd tableau - Choir of Angels
I have orchestrated the Pastorale, from the piano accompaniment, for a pair of each of the winds, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, percussion, harp, organ and strings. Its first performance in this form was given with the original French text on December 24, 2000 before the Midnight Mass in Assumption Grotto Church, Detroit.
Rev. Eduard Perrone
* In a letter of January 5, 1955, Paray wrote to his daughter, Monique: "What you tell me about your English adaptation of my 'Nativity' interests me greatly. I composed this little work in one night in my little attic room (chambre de bonne) on Rougemont street (Paris). I was 18 years old. It was long ago."
That would situate the date of composition as 1904. However, in a letter written in 1970 to professors of the Rouen Conservatory, he mentioned that it was written in 1907 and published by the Fathers of the Maison de la Bonne Presse (Catherine Beuvain Desenclos, Biographie Commentée et Travaux tie Paul Paray, Université de Haute Normandie, undated).