Joan of Arc at The Stake Program Notes
BY ARTHUR F. EDWARDS
Annotator, Los Angeles Master Chorale
Joan of Arc at The Stake
Arthur Honegger (1892-1955)
It was 1429, and once again all Gaul was divided into three parts. The heart of France was in the hands of the infant king of England, Henry VI, and his regent, the Duke of Bedford. The north and east were under the control of Philip II of Burgundy. The Dauphin, son of the mad Charles VI, was in precarious control of the central and southern areas - the part that 500 years later was to be ingloriously known as Vichy France.
Charles VI had been dead for seven years, but the Dauphin had not yet been crowned. The King of France was always crowned at Rheims, and Rheims was under English control. The Dauphin had been declared illegitimate by his own mother and his sister married to the victorious Henry V. And a great darkness was upon the face of the whole kingdom.
But there was a girl whose name was Joan. She was born in Domrémy in 1412. In February of 1429, at the insistence of her Voices, she made her way to the Dauphin at Chinon and informed him that he was truly the son and heir of Charles VI. In May, she raised the siege of Orleans. On July 17, Charles VII was anointed and crowned at Rheims. From that moment, the English were intruders and the Burgundians traitors to their King.
Joan was ready to return home but was persuaded to remain at court. Since there was no money or enthusiasm for large-scale campaigns, Joan had to undertake ambitious projects with insufficient forces. She was wounded in September during an unsuccessful attempt to take Paris. In May, 1430, while defending Compiegne she led a sortie against the Burgundians. Guillaume de Flavy dropped the portcullis behind Joan, cutting off her retreat. She was captured by John of Luxemburg and sold to the English. Finally at Rouen, a tribunal headed by Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais, found her guilty of witchcraft and heresy and she was burned at the stake in May, 1431.
By 1456, the English were out of France, the verdict against Joan was revoked, and the dead Bishop of Beauvais excommunicated. Finally, in 1920, the Maid of Lorraine was canonized, i.e., declared a Saint.
Fifteen years later, Arthur Honegger and Paul Claude! (1868-1955) created the dramatic oratorio Joan of Arc at The Stake. Claudel, for many years French ambassador to the United States and a leading poet and dramatist of his time, concocted a tribute to Joan full of beauty and outrageous allegory. In an ideal collaboration, Honegger vastly heightened the subtle complexity. On one plane the oratorio is a moving portrait of the Maid whom Bernard Shaw referred to as "the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages." Delve below the surface and one finds a treasure trove of complexities, allegories, and paraphrases. There is savage humor in the flickering light of the pyre.
The entire work is out of time and space, in the moments before Joan's death. With the guidance of Brother [Saint] Dominic [Guzman] she endeavors to understand what has happened to her, and why.
PROLOGUE. Darkness! And all France was without form and void. In a paraphrase of Genesis I, the chaos of the suffering country is depicted. The Spirit of God moves upon the land and summons a girl whose name was Joan.
I. THE VOICES FROM HEAVEN. A dog is heard howling in the night. Joan is roused by heavenly voices.
II. THE BOOK. Brother Dominic appears to Joan with a Book transcribed by the Angels.
Ill. THE VOICES OF THE EARTH. The voices of the earth vilify Joan in Latin as well as the vernacular. Their hate bewilders her, but Dominic declares that she was really condemned not by priests and politicians, but by beasts; and the trial begins.
IV. JOAN IS GIVEN UP TO THE BEASTS. In a vicious play on words, Bishop Cauchon is revealed as cochon: in Latin Porcus, in English pig. He is hailed in sonorous Latin as the Nose among noses, the great judge of truffles and turnips. As the lily among the thorns, he is handsome among the cuckoos. Behold how good and ;ust it is for brethren to gobble the potatoes in unity.
The jury are a flock of sheep. The recorder is an ass. To the tune of the Marian hymn Concordae laetitia, the crowd hails his great ears. God and the Devil, truth and calumny are hopelessly confused, but the desired result is achieved: Joan is condemned.
V. JOAN AT THE STAKE. Brother Dominic explains the trial and informs Joan that her capture was the result of a game of cards invented by a mad king.
VI. THE GAME OF CARDS. There are four Kings and four Queens. The
Kings, France, England, Burgundy, and the silent card, Death, constantly change places. The Queens do not move. They are always with us : their Majesties Stupidity, Bombast, Avarice, and Lasciviousness. The game is played by the Knaves : the Duke of Bedford, John of Luxemburg, Regnault de Chartres, Guillaume de Flavy. Joan is the pawn.
VII. CATHERINE AND MARGARET. The funeral bells invoke Joan's Voices: Catherine and Margaret. It is 1429, and Joan leads the Dauphin to Rheims.
VIII. THE KING SETS OUT FOR RHEIMS. Just as Americans have Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, the French have their symbolic giants: Heurtebise, the giant miller of Picardy, and Mother Wine Barrels of Burgundy. Because of Joan, the good bread of France and the good wine of France are forever reunited. A great crowd witnesses the royal procession. France again has a king and will become a nation.
IX. THE SWORD OF JOAN. In Normandy, Joan again hears the voices that summoned her in Lorraine. As spring must follow winter, so France, after its long winter of defeat, is saved at Orleans in the month of May.
X. TRIMAZO. In May the children light candles to the Virgin. In this May of 1431, Joan herself will be a votive flame.
XI. THE BURNING OF JOAN OF ARC. The offering is accepted, and Saint Joan will be a shining flame that lights all France. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for those he loves. Honegger has scored the work for flutes, oboes, clarinets and bass clarinet, three alto saxophones, bassoons and contra bassoon, trumpets, trombones (but no horns), two pianos, tympani, percussion, celeste, Ondes Martenot (a species of theremin), and strings.