The Overture to Philidor's 'Le Bûcheron' (1763)

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Philidor's 'Le Bûcheron' appears, judging from the contemporary full score, not to possess any overture. In fact the overture is present in the instrumental parts issued at the time. Because no score has been available so far, the importance of the overture in the history of opera has been missed. One vital strand of French overtures, developed by Rameau, sought to establish musical and even narrative-thematic links between certain parent-operas and their overtures. Although there was no single convention, we find that Rameau almost always used an overture to express the general and moral aspects of a drama, not to evoke any particular dramatic character or make quotation from any solo aria. But Philidor's 'Le Bûcheron' overture used two motifs from the Woodcutter's exposition aria, 'Dès le matin', and a third motif from another character's aria. The first motif from the Woodcutter's aria was the orchestral figure describing the sound and action of his axe, and the second alludes to a vocal phrase sung to the words 'Qu'on a de peine'. The motif from Colin's aria alludes to the words 'Passer toute ma vie'. Philidor's sonata-form overture uses the 'axe' motif only at the start and the finish, and his purpose overall seems to be to write an Italianate sinfonia appropriate to a comedy, but simultaneously to make reference to the miserable plight of Blaise, the woodcutter, in Perrault's source tale, 'The Ridiculous Wishes'. The opera was dedicated to the Dauphin of France, and Perrault's original moral applies accordingly: 'Songeons à bien user des dons que le Ciel nous a faits' ('Let us make wise use of the gifts that Providence supplies').
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationD'un opéra l'autre
Subtitle of host publicationHommage à Jean Mongrédien
EditorsJean Gribenski, Marie-Claire Mussat, Herbert Schneider
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherPresses de l'Université Paris-Sorbonne
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)2840500639
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • Overture, opera, France, Philidor, illustrative music

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