Méditation from Thaïs: Massenet's intermezzo as the best violin encore
Thais 1894 by Joam Veber
Méditation is one of the best-known orchestral works by the Romantic-era composer Jules Massenet which appears as an intermezzo in the key scene of the Thaïs opera. The opera libretto follows the literary plot set by Anatole France in his novel of the same name, describing the life of St. Thaïs, a fourth-century Egyptian courtesan.
Written for solo violin and orchestra, Méditation represents Thaïs' nightly reflections on the radical change in her life prompted by the fervent speeches of Athanaël, a Cenobite monk and her childhood friend in the book canon. As a result, Thaïs decides to leave her wealthy accommodations, leaving behind all tokens of her previous life of luxury, with the purpose to spend three years of solitude in a convent cell.
The drama of the opera revolves around the monk's late realisation of his true feelings for Thaïs, but by the time he comes to terms with his love for her, she has already made the decision to repent for her sins. Despite Athanaël's pleas to marry him, Thaïs refuses to abandon her cell and join him. In the finale, Thaïs dies and the inconsolable monk weeps at her deathbed.
Listen to Jules Massenet's Meditation from Thaïs performed by Donald Voorhees with The Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra featuring Jascha Heifetz as a violin:
Curiously, Massenet wrote the complex title vocal lines specifically for the outstanding soprano Sibyl Sanderson which is part of the reason why vocal Thaïs productions are so rare these days. At the same time, the melodically-refined violin part of Méditation from Thaïs is considered by many musicians to be the perfect piece for an encore and is therefore performed intensively.