Leonard Bernstein (1913-1990), Choruses from The Lark
Narration selected by Nathaniel G. Lew from The Lark by Jean Anouilh, adapted by Lilian Hellman
Please listen to our recording for reference. Note that on the recording, we edited a few phrases (and one entire paragraph) out of the script below. Although these spoken passages without music were too long for a CD, they are very effective in live performance. All changes are marked with brackets.
CHORUS SINGS LATIN 1: PRELUDE
I’ll start at the beginning. It’s always nicer at the beginning. I’ll begin with my father’s house when I was very small. I live [t]here happy enough with my mother, my brothers, my father.
CHORUS SINGS FRENCH 1: SPRING SONG to fermata on p. 11
I’m in the meadow now, watching my sheep. [I am not thinking of anything.] It is the first time I hear the Voices. I wasn’t thinking of anything. I only know that God is good and that He keeps me pure and safe in this [little corner of the earth near Domremy, this one] little piece of French earth that has not yet been destroyed by the English invaders. Then, suddenly, someone behind me touched my shoulder. I know very well that no one is behind me. I turn and there is a great blinding light in the shadow of me. The Voice is grave and sweet and I was frightened. But I didn’t tell anybody. I don’t know why. Then came the second time. It was the noon Angelus. A light came over the sun and was stronger than the sun. There he was. I saw him. An angel in a beautiful clean robe that must have been ironed by somebody very careful[ly]. He had two great white wings. He didn’t tell me his name [that day], but later I found out that he was Monseigneur the Blessed Saint Michael.
[To Saint Michael:] Blessed Saint Michael, excuse me, but you are in the wrong village. I am Joan, an ignorant girl, my father’s daughter…. [Pauses, listens.] I can’t save France. I don’t even know how to ride a horse. Forgive me, Saint Michael, but I must go home now…. [She is held back by a command.] Oh, Blessed Saint Michael, have pity on me. Have pity, Messire.
CHORUS SINGS FRENCH 1: SPRING SONG, pp. 12-14
Well, he didn’t. And that was the day I was saddled with France. And my work on the farm.
CHORUS SINGS FRENCH 2: COURT SONG
[To Charles:] I am Joan the Maid. The King of Heaven has sent me here. I am to take you, Charles, to Reims and have you anointed and crowned King of France. We will fight our way there, noble Dauphin. First we will take Orleans [with the help of our Lord God who is my only commander,] and then we will walk to Reims. After that, we will push the English into the sea.
[We never reprise the Spring Song under the narration in the court scene. The Spring Song has nothing to do with Charles; indeed, by this point in the story Joan has left Domremy far behind. Anouilh/Hellman’s speech is so striking that the long gap between movements always works fine in performance. Putting that reprise on the recording was an error, and it is a shame to hear it passed into all the later recordings.]
[And now I’ll tell you the truth: I am afraid. [With force:] And why not? Only the stupid are not afraid. It was far more dangerous for me to get here than it is for you to build a kingdom. I’ve been in danger every minute of the way, and every minute of the way I was frightened. I don’t want to be beaten, I don’t want pain, I don’t want to die. I am scared. But when I get scared, I act as if I wasn’t. It’s that simple. Try it. Say to yourself, yes, I am afraid. But it’s nobody else’s business, so go on, go on. And you do go on. [Slowly, carefully:] To the English, outside Orleans. And when you get there and we see the cannon and the archers, and you know you are outnumbered, you will say to yourself, all right, they are stronger than I am, and that frightens me, as well it should. But I’ll march right through because I had sense enough to get frightened first. You can if you have sense and courage. God gave man an inside to his head, and He naturally doesn’t want to see it wasted. See? That’s my secret.]
Now, right now, believe in God and give me the army of France. You are ready. Come on, Charlie. God is smiling. He is saying to Himself, “Look at that little Charles. He is sicker than he’s ever been in his life. But he has called his enemies and will face them. My, such a thing is wonderful.” Hang on, Charles, We’ll be in Orleans. We’ll march right up. You see how simple it is? O my God, I thank you.
CHORUS SINGS LATIN 2: BENEDICTUS
The gates! The gates of Orleans! They’re ahead of us – the day has come. [To horse, my boy, to horse! It’s dawn. The woods are still wet from the night. The trees are still dark and strange.] It’s fine to ride into battle with a good soldier by your side. Death has to be waiting at the end of the ride before you truly see the earth, and feel your heart, and love the world.
[Start the Soldier Song quietly under the last words of the preceding speech.]
CHORUS SINGS FRENCH 3: SOLDIER’S SONG
Blessed Saint Michael, I am in prison. Come to me. Find me. [Cries out:] I need you now. [Very loudly:] I told you that I was afraid of fire, long before I ever knew – or did I always know? You want me to live? [When there is no answer:] Why do I call for help? You must have good reason for not coming to me. [They think I dreamed it all. Maybe I did. But it’s all over now….]
CHORUS SINGS: “QUI TOLLIS” FROM PRELUDE QUIETLY UNDER THE NEXT PART
[No,] I have done wrong. And I don’t know how or why I did it. [Slowly, bitterly:] I swore against myself. That is a great sin, past all others…. [Desperately:] I still believe in all that I did, and yet I swore against it. God can’t want that.
[Narrator waits until the Qui Tollis ends before delivering Joan’s big change of heart. On the recording the somber music continues under the change of heart, which doesn’t make as much emotional sense.]
[Calls out, speaking to the Voices.] I was only born the day you first spoke to me. My life only began on the day you told me what I must do, my sword in hand. You are silent, dear my God, because you are sad to see me frightened and craven. And for what? A few years of unworthy life. [Softly, as if answering a message:] I know. Yes, I know. I took the good days from You and refused the bad. I know. Dear my God, forgive me, [forgive me and keep me now to be myself.] Forgive me and take me back for what I am. [Happy and cheerful:] Call your soldiers. I deny my confession. [Calls out.] Soldiers! Englishmen! Give me back my warrior clothes. And when I have put them on, call back all the priests. [Simply:] Please God, help me now.
CHORUS SINGS LATIN 3: SANCTUS
Please. Please. Give me a Cross.
CHORUS SINGS LATIN 4: REQUIEM
We can’t let it end this way. If we do, it will not be the true story. The true story is the story of my happiest day. Anybody with any sense knows that. [Happy:] Oh, I wasn’t paying attention to Charlie. I knew what Charlie was like. I wanted him crowned because I wanted my country back. And God gave it to us on this Coronation Day. Let’s end with it, please, if nobody would mind.
CHORUS SINGS LATIN 5: GLORIA