La nuit des Cathédrales

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday our choir, Arianna, was engaged to sing with three other choirs and two harmonies (town, wind or military bands) at the cathedral for the "Night of the Cathedrals". This is an evening where all over France cathedrals put on cultural events designed to draw in the crowds. Our concert was free, the cathedral was full to bursting and people were queuing round the block and way up the street to get in.

The programme was varied, including some martial piece I didn't know at all, followed without intermission by

Cantique de Jean Racine
Extracts from Carmina Burana (the loudest and most spectacular parts!)
Two extracts from Mozart's Requiem
Berlioz' Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphante

The dress rehearsal on Thursday evening was brutal. We were stood around for hours, and Pat's back threatened rebellion. So she went home and didn't sing in the concert itself.

On Friday evening we were working, so that meant I was present and correct for the Saturday in my new black trews, white shirt, jacket and comfy trainers (!) and what fun it was! They added in Bach-Gounod's "Ave Maria", performed as a tribute to Notre-Dame de Paris by two harpists and an alarmingly mature 15-year old from the cathedral choir. Also in consequence, while last year the cathedral was lit by 2000 candles, this year we had some strings of led lights and artfully placed coloured spotlights.

We hung our coats in the gallery of the cathedral where they were guarded by some illustrious "souls".

The Berlioz is long and loud, with lots of bass drum and gong, and two brass bands up in the choir loft. We sing for the last three minutes with some of the most banal words I've ever had to joy to declaim.

Glory and triumph to these heroes who have fallen on the soil of the homeland.
Come elect of the other life!  (I'm not making it up)
Exchange, noble warriors, your laurels for immortal palms!
Follow the seraphim, divine soldiers, into the eternal plains!
To their infinite choirs be united!
Radiant angels, harmonious, burning like them, sublime sacrificial lambs! *
Glory and respect to their tombs!

Generally we all felt that the soldiers who fell during the 1830 uprising probably deserved a better effort from Berlioz than that, but we gave it all we had, including a choir of 200, 6 trombones, 8 trumpets, 2 euphoniums, one tuba and lots of horns with four strong and violent percussionists, and everyone agreed that even if the music wasn't the best it made a most splendid noise!

* An-ges rad-ieux
Bru-lant comme eux
Su-blim-es vic-ti-mes

I think these lines will be forever graven on my memory...


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