Hector Berlioz wrote the Chant Sacré (Sacred Song) in 1829, using re-using a melody he had employed in his cantata of the previous year, Herminie. Berlioz went on to create three arrangements for this gorgeous and brief piece: for choir and piano; for chorus and orchestra; and, in 1844, a version for six wind instruments. This last arrangement, since lost, included two types of clarinets and four “saxhorns” invented by the Belgian musician and inventor, Adolphe Sax, including the instrument we know today as the saxophone. Berlioz, the master orchestrator, met Sax and greatly admired his new musical instruments, praising them in his Grand Traité d’Instrumentation et d’Orchestration as ‘”round, pure, full and completely even over the whole range of their scale,” and employing them in the next decade in his opera Les Troyens.

This arrangement of the Chant Sacré is the first work written by a major composer for the saxophone. The text used by Berlioz was a French translation of a setting by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore. Below are the three versions of the Chant Sacré, followed by Moore’s original text, and then the French version set by Berlioz.

Version H. 44a for choir and piano (included as part of Berlioz’s song-cycle Irlande:

Version H. 44b, for chorus and orchestra:

Version H. 44c, arranged by Guillaume Guillon, for the same combination of wind instruments specified by Berlioz in his (lost) arrangement:

“Thou art, O God,” by Thomas Moore (1816)

Thou art, O God, the life and light
Of all this wond’rous world we see;
Its glow by day, its smile by night,
Are but reflections caught from Thee.
Where’er we turn Thy glories shine,
And all things fair and bright are Thine!

When day, with farewell beam, delays
Among the op’ning clouds of even,
And we can almost think we gaze
Through golden vistas into heaven —
Those hues that make the sun’s decline
So soft, so radiant, Lord! are Thine.

When night, with wings of starry gloom,
O’ershadows all the earth and skies,
Like some dark, beauteous bird, whose plume
Is sparkling with unnumbered eyes —
That sacred gloom, those fires divine,
So grand, so countless, Lord! are Thine.

When youthful Spring around us breathes,
Thy Spirit warms her fragrant sigh;
And every flower the summer wreathes
Is born beneath that kindling eye.
Where’er we turn, Thy glories shine,
And all things fair and bright are Thine!

Chant Sacré

Dieu tout-puissant, Dieu de l’aurore,
D’aimer qui fis la douce loi,
Dieu qu’en vain nulle voix n’implore,
Tous les biens nous viennent de toi.

Ces clartés qu’entre les nuages
Le couchant lance sur nos plages,
Du jour mourant derniers adieux,
Du soir les brillants étoiles
Qui de la nuit parent les voiles,
Ne sont qu’un rayon de tes yeux.
Dieu tout-puissant, Dieu de l’aurore, etc.

Du printemps l’haleine embaumée
Du soir les brillantes étoiles
Les accords divins de la lyre
Ne sont qu’un écho de ta voix,
Ne sont qu’un rayon de tes yeux,
Ne sont que ton souffle sauveur,
Dieu tout puissant!

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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “An angel playing a stringed instrument (a neckless gittern?), a corbel in Great Malvern Priory Church, Great Malvern, Worcestershire, England” by Spencer Means is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 .

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