February 2010

Farandole from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2

by Georges Bizet

Georges Bizet (pronounced bee-ZAY) was born in Paris, France in 1838. He was most well known for his opera Carmen (a topic for another month). In 1872, Bizet composed music to accompany a play by Alphonse Daudet, L'Arlésienne ("The Girl from Arles"). Following the debut of the play, he put together two orchestral suites that contained music from the play: L'Arlésienne Suites No. 1 & 2.

The L'Arlésienne Suites are peppered with a central theme that is very recognizable. This theme gets its own standalone performance in the Farandole from the Second Suite. A "farandole" is a French dance, usually performed with the dancers standing in a circle holding hands and skipping at every beat.

The theme portrayed in the Farandole is actually an old Christmas carol called "March of the Kings". It's a march for the Three Kings that came to visit the baby Jesus (bearing gold, frankincense, and myrrh). Wikipedia is telling me that this is an English carol, but it seems to be French in origin. I've found French lyrics, and several English lyrics that are similar, but not quite the same (usually evidence that it has been translated from another language). Here is one version of the first verse:

This great day, I met upon the way
The kings of east as they came riding proudly,
This great day, I met upon the way
The kings of east in all their fine array.
The gifts of gold, frankiscense and myrrh,
Were guarded close by a band of sturdy warriors,
Their swords, their shields, and their bucklers bright
Agleam and sparkling in the morning light.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

I really don't know when I first heard this piece. I find that the Farandole seems to find its way into Christmas albums (as it's actually a Christmas carol). It's possible that's when I first heard it. I also suspect that I may have played a simplified version of the them in fifth or sixth grade band (as many of you know, I played trombone).

The Farandole bore such a familiar theme, though, that I've always kept it in the back of my mind as a piece I'd wanted to keep track of. I believe I finally tracked it down to L'Arlésienne in High School.


So, here it is. This recording is 3 minutes 8 seconds long. Enjoy!

Farandole from L'Arlésienne Suite No. 2 by Georges Bizet (3:08)

For those interested, this recording was performed by the Cinncinati Pops Orchestra led by Erich Kunzel on their album "Symphonic Spectacular".

Jon's Interpretation:

There is something powerfully inspiring by this theme. And it has a really strange way of sticking in your head after one listen. Bizet clearly made it popular, but we're clearly indebted to an anonymous composer long ago for putting together a very memorable melody.

Extra Credit:

To give you an idea of how this piece sometimes gets incorporated into Christmas albums, I have an example here from the King's Singers. Here, Farandole is combined with another Christmas carol "Pat-a-Pan". Enjoy:

Patapan and Farandole performed by The King's Singers (3:52)