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The Story of Nuit Persane
Saint-Saëns quickly this new Nuit Persane quickly, in the suburbs of Alger where he spent most of his winters. Its composition started on 21 November 1891 in Pointe Pescade and was completed just over a month later, on 16 December.
He orchestrated just five of the six Mélodies Persanes. La Splendeur Vide was not kept but its theme is evoked in the orchestral prelude which opens the fourth section of Nuit Persane. Two new movements were added: La Fuite (Flight) and Les Cygnes (Swans)
In order to give some cohesion to the work, the composer wrote an orchestral preludes for each of the four sections: La Solitaire (The Lonely Woman), La Vallée de l’Union (Valley of Union), Fleurs de Sang (Flowers of blood), Songe d’Opium (Opium Dream). He also incorporated some excerpts of the musical themes and combined these preludes that mixed music and declamation in the melodrama. The speaking part is given to La Voix du Rêve (The Voice of the Dream).
Saint-Saëns’s orchestration was a mixture of musical instruments that worked extremely well. The large wind and brass section included 3 flutes, 2 oboes, a French horn, 2 clarinets and 2 bassoons; 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 cornets and 3 trombones; a string section, harps and percussion instruments (triangle, timpani, cymbals and tambourine).
The tenor’s voice was doubled by a chorus coming out of nowhere with the addition of a repetitive melody that faded progressively in the infinite, it gave a strange colour to the sound of the last melody of the cycle Tournoiement.
Saint-Saëns gave Nuit Persane to Edouard Colonne who conducted it for the first time with his orchestra, at the Châtelet Theatre, on 14 February 1892. It was so successful that it was played again the next Sunday.The singers were Madame Durand-Ulbach (contralto) and the tenor Engel. Mademoiselle Fériel, an actress at Théâtre du Vaudeville was the narrator. The work frustrated some of the music critics who were surprised to see that the composer had written a mystical work based on a tragic vision of life and death. However most of them agreed that the composition offered the amazing aspect of a symbolist poem tinted with oriental colours that required a complex performance that in turn limited its accessibility.