“Je veux vivre” Formal analysis

In a previous post, I said that “Je veux vivre” was in ABA form, which isn’t entirely correct, so I want to discuss the form in more detail. The form is actually rondo form, which means there is a returning section/refrain (A) and two different contrasting sections (B & C), so ABACA. In the below form diagram, you can see the different sections including an introduction and coda, as well as the harmonic/key area associated with each formal section. I also included the text that goes with each section. In the second table, you will see all the moments of coloratura. I wanted to include this to see where Juliette breaks into ecstatic and energetic moments and how that informs the meaning of the aria and her character in general. 

SectionIntroABACCoda (A based) 
Measures1-1415-7879-104105- 135135-151152- 196
Key areaPiano lands on CM chordF majora minorF major F majorF major
Text“Ah!”“Je veux” (2x)“Cette ivresse”“Je veux” (1x)“Loin de l’hiver”“Douce flamme”
Coloratura momentsOpening cadenzaArpeggiated cadenza at end of second AAscending/
chromatic scale
n/a (Jump from E to Bb)Huge chromatic runs leading into return of “Douce flamme”Final cadenza up to high D
Text“Ah!”“Comme un trésor”“Ah!” “Comme un trésor”“Ah!”“Ah!”

Laying out this form diagram has brought some super clear insight to this aria. I never realized that the coloratura moments almost function as transitional material between the larger sections. There is the opening cadenza that sets the tone for the rest of the aria. Within the first A section, Juliette repeats this musical material. At the end of the first section on “Comme un trésor!” the melody ascends chromatically up the scale to the high A. The second time Juliette repeats this text, we have our first true moment of ornamentation/coloratura action with an ascending arpeggiation up to a Bb and then rapid descending scale. Next is the B section “Cette ivresse” which is set in the contrasting key of A minor. At the end of this section, Gounod brings us right back to the A section through an ascending and descending chromatic scale. This third repetition of the refrain is slightly different than the first two iterations. Even Juliette’s text is changed from “Ce jour encor/This day again” to “Longtemps encor/A long time yet.” This textual change makes sense because in the previous section “Cette ivresse” she is saying how the happiness lasts but just one day. This third time the text is changed because she realizes that she wants the happiness to last more than just “this day.” Instead of an ornamented or chromatic moment at the end of this refrain, on “Comme un trésor” there is a more direct statement on a jump from E to Bb. This leads into the newest section of musical material “Loin de l’hiver…”  In this section, Juliette is lamenting on how she wants to be left to enjoy her youth and the rose before it (her youth) spoils. This next coloratura section and transition into the A based coda is the most intense and lengthy virtuosic section of the aria. It’s almost as if she is trying to fight the despair that she knows is coming. This chromatic section has shorter two-measure musical phrases that increase in intensity and range. After four repetitions of the same descending scale from A down to C, Juliette breaks out of this fight/repetition (through a trill, landing on the high Bb) finally back to the A section “Douce flamme.” The final cadenza reaches the highest note of the aria (D). I think this is Juliette’s final way of trying to make herself heard and understood! The arpeggiated “Comme un trésor” immediately after shows Juliette’s embarrassment or bashfulness of realizing that she just had a major outburst. The final “Longtemps encor!” decorated with trills and grace notes could be interpreted as her restating her final thought, but in a more appealing, cute (trills) and more socially acceptable manner.

Top focus: Create form diagram and analyze formal structure, identify coloratura moments within form

Further topics: I’ve been considering the idea that Juliette may know exactly what is going to happen — her death. I would like to maybe analyze this aria from the perspective of the stages of grief. In these coloratura moments and the aria as a whole, I sense pain, denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, and acceptance. Assigning these emotions could give the aria an entirely new meaning and feel.

Characterization of Juliette: I think the coloratura shows her moments of pure emotion, where she can’t quite find the words to express how she is feeling. The final coloratura moment after “Loin” feels like she is fighting this fate that she knows — she is clawing her way back to her gentle flame “douce flame” of life. Generally the coloratura style intensifies as the aria develops and this shows how Juliette is getting more upset, annoyed, and angry about the fact that she just wants to live and be free of marriage/love! The trills and grace notes give the piece a light and joyful feel, symbolizing and representing her youth.

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