Saturday, November 28, 2020

Beethoven - Coriolan Overture

The plays of Shakespeare have inspired other playwrights and composers for many years.  Shakespeare wrote a play entitled Coriolanus, which is based on the legendary Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus.  Evidently, a story good enough for Shakespeare was good enough for the early 19th century Viennese playwright Heinrich von Collin. His play was entitled Coriolan, and even though the play had good actors cast, the play itself was not very good. It opened in 1802 and closed shortly after that.

It was the play by the Viennese playwright that Beethoven wrote the overture for, not the Shakespeare version of the story.  The story on which the overture is based:

The Roman General Coriolanus is banished from Rome after he throws a hissy fit over the citizens renouncing his bid to be elected counsel of Rome. In revenge, he goes over to the side of the enemies of Rome and plans to sack the city. He lays siege to the city and refuses to grant amnesty to his own people. In desperation, his wife and mother go to him and plead with him to spare his family. He settles in favor of his family which makes him a traitor to his allies, the enemies of Rome. In Shakespeare's play, Coriolanus' allies kill him while in the Collin play he commits suicide by falling on his sword.

The overture is written in a very distilled sonata form, with the first theme representing the uncompromising rage of Coriolanus while the second theme represents the pleadings from Coriolanus' mother and wife.  The pleadings are consumed by the repetition of the jagged rage of the first theme. The exposition continues to expound the moral dilemma Coriolanus is in, whether to continue to slay all of Rome, including his innocent family, or to spare them. When the main theme is heard at the beginning of the recapitulation, it is now beginning to waver in its resolve. The theme slowly crumbles away, the rage is gone, the heart of Coriolanus quits beating as the music dies with the dull thumps of pizzicato strings.

Beethoven wrote only one opera, Fidelio, and it cost him much in labor and time.  He never again wrote for the opera theater, but that doesn't mean his music couldn't be dramatic.  This overture shows that while Beethoven may not have been a natural composer for dramatic opera, he could write pure music that could convey drama without the use of any words. It was this kind of overture that lead to the symphonic poems of Liszt and others. It would not be a stretch at all to say that this overture could be called a symphonic poem, and it is a very good example of how Beethoven inspired the composers of the Romantic era.

The following video of Carlos Kleiber conducting the overture shows how orchestral conducting is just as much an art as a science. Kleiber translates the mood of the music through his actions, and the orchestra responds. The end of the work shows how much the audience was swept up by the music, for whether they were hypnotized, stunned or perhaps equal measures of both, the applause does not start until the music had long since stopped. That is the greatest tribute an audience can give a performer,  prolonged silence before the applause begins.


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Verdi - Requiem

The Catholic religious rite of the Mass is basic to the faith, and takes many forms. The most basic is a Mass that contains the reading of scripture and is based around the Eucharist, also known as Communion in other denominations. The Mass can be different for different occasions, as instructed in the Roman Missal. One specific type of Mass is the Requiem Mass For The Dead. It is a ceremony in remembrance of the deceased and to offer prayers for their soul to have eternal rest in heaven. The word requiem itself comes from the first word in the Latin Introit (the beginning of the Mass sung by a choir, taken from a psalm) Requiem aeternam dona eis - Rest eternal grant unto them.

The art of music grew for centuries under the auspices of the Church,  so it was natural that composers would set the Mass to music. The coming of the first documented polyphonic Mass in the 15th century brought with it a large number of settings for the Requiem Mass. At first these compositions were quite rigid in structure, but as the art of music grew, so did expression in the Requiem. By the time Giuseppe Verdi came to write his Requiem in 1874, there were many examples already written by composers obscure and famous.

Alessandro Manzoni
The work was written in memory of the Italian novelist and poet Alessandro Manzoni whom Verdi admired.  Manzoni had died in 1873 and the Requiem was premiered in 1874 on the one year anniversary of his death. Verdi conducted the first performance that was given, in a Milan church. It was met with limited success, perhaps partly due to the fact that women were only just being allowed to sing in the Catholic church which delayed the work's acceptance in Italy.  But after a short time it fell out of the repertoire until the 1930's.  Some critics found the drama of the music to be more in the style of an opera than a religious work while others found the style of music too radical (meaning too modern). There is no doubt the music is quite dramatic, but it covers pretty much all human emotions which was quite in keeping with Verdi's style. The spirit of Verdi perhaps has had the last laugh, for the Requiem is now one of the most performed works of the choral literature.  Verdi's spirit has another reason to chuckle over the veneration of this religious work, for he was at the most an agnostic and at worst a confirmed atheist.

The Requiem is written for 4 soloists, double choir and a large orchestra. It is in seven parts:

I. INTROIT & KYRIE - Beginning with muted strings that are almost inaudible, the chorus quietly enters. Both sections convey a wish for gentle rest for the departed.
Introit
Chorus
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
and may perpetual light shine on them.
A hymn to you is fitting, God of Zion,
and to you shall a vow be made in Jerusalem.
Listen to my prayer;
unto you all flesh shall come.
Grant them rest eternal, Lord,
and may perpetual light shine on them.

Kyrie
Solo Quartet and Chorus
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy

II. DIES IRAE - This longest part of the work portrays the drama of human emotion, something that Verdi was known for in his operas.  The pleading for mercy and a way to salvation is interrupted by the savagery of the Dies Irae.

Dies Irae - In music that shakes the rafters, Verdi portrays the destruction of the world with strings that rip through scale passages, piccolos that screech, brass that roars and a bass drum that gets the hell beat out of it. This section is like an idee fixe as it returns throughout the work, (twice in this part alone) driving home the hopelessness of the sinner on Judgement Day.
Chorus
 Day of wrath, that day
the world will dissolve in ashes,
as witness David and the Sibyl.
 What trembling there will be,
when the judge shall come
to examine all things thoroughly.

Tuba Mirum -  Trumpets off stage join the trumpets in the orchestra for an echoing effect that grows into a tremendous crescendo that spreads to the chorus that has to struggle to be heard over the rolls played on the bass drum.
Chorus
The trumpet, spreading its wondrous sound
through the tombs of all regions,
will gather all before the throne.


Mors Stupebit
Bass Solo
Death will be stupefied, also nature,
when all creation arises
to answer to the judge.

Liber Scriptus
Mezzo-Soprano Solo and Chorus
A written book will be brought forth,
in which everything shall be contained,
 by which the world shall be judged.
When the judge is therefore seated,
whatever is hidden will be exposed;
nothing shall remain unavenged.
 Day of wrath, that day
the world will dissolve in ashes,
as witness David and the Sibyl.

Quid sum miser
Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and Tenor Solos
What am I, a miserable one, to say then?
What patron shall I request,
when the righteous are scarcely secure?

Rex tremendae
Solo Quartet and Chorus
King of fearful majesty,
who freely saves the redeemed,
save me, fount of mercy.

Recordare 
Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano Solos
Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the cause of your journey;
do not abandon me on that day.
Seeking me, you sat down exhausted;
you redeemed me by suffering the cross.
 Such great labor should not be in vain.
Just judge of vengeance,
 make the gift of remission
before the day of accounting.

Ingemisco - This solo was sung by the late Lucio Pavarotti many times in concert, and is a favorite of tenors.
Tenor Solo
I sigh as one accused;
shame reddens my face.
Spare the supplicant, God.
You who absolved Mary 
 and listened to the thief
have given me hope also.
 My prayers are not worthy,
but you, good one, be merciful,
 lest I burn in everlasting flames!
Place me prominently among your sheep,
 and from the goats separate me,
 placing me in the portion on the right.

Confutatis 
Bass Solo and Chorus
Silencing the accursed,
 to acrid flames consigning them,
call me with those blessed.
I pray, bowed and kneeling
my heart contrite as ashes;
take care of me at the last.
Chorus
Day of wrath, that day
 the world will dissolve in ashes,
as witness David and the Sibyl.

Lacrymosa - After the roar and thunder of the Dies Irae, this is a gentle plea for mercy.
Solo Quartet and Chorus
That tearful day,
when guilty man shall rise
 from the embers to be judged.
 Oh, therefore spare him, God.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

III. OFFERTORY - A beautiful setting for the soloists.
Solo Quartet
Lord Jesu Christ, glorious King,
free the souls of all the faithful dead
 from punishment in the inferno,
and from the deep pit.
Deliver them from the lion's mouth,
lest the abyss swallow them up,
lest they fall into darkness.
But may the standardbearer St. Michael
bring them into the holy light,
as once you promised to Abraham
and his seed.
Sacrifices and prayers we offer
to you, Lord, with praise.
 Receive them for the souls of those
whom today we commemorate;
make them, Lord,
to pass from death to life,
as once you promised to Abraham
and his seed.
Free the souls of all the faithful dead
from punishment in the inferno.
May they pass from death to life.

IV. SANCTUS -  In this rather brief part, the choir is divided into eight parts in counterpoint in music that is jubilant and full of hope.  Near the end the orchestra plays rapid chromatic ascending and descending chromatic scales to good effect.
Choruses I and II
Holy, holy, holy,
 Lord God of the Hosts.
The heavens and earth are filled
 with your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
 Blessed is he who comes
 in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!

V. AGNUS DEI - Soprano and mezzo-soprano sing a simple, gentle melody an octave apart.
Soprano and Mezzo-Soprano Solos and Chorus
 Lamb of God,
who removes the world's sins,
 grant them rest.
Lamb of God,
who removes the world's sins,
grant them rest everlasting.

VI. LUX  AETERNA - The music begins softly and wrapped in mystery. The mezzo-soprano continues pleading for mercy. The bass enters with a chilling solo that reminds all of the seriousness of the consequences (at least in the dogma of the Catholic Church) of not being one of the chosen.
Mezzo-Soprano, Tenor and Bass Solos
May eternal light shine on them, Lord,
with your saints for eternity,
because you are merciful.
Grant them eternal rest, Lord,
 and may perpetual light shine on them,
with your saints for eternity,
because you are merciful.

VII. LIBERA ME - The final part contains sections of chant, choral fugue, and a trembling soprano that is terrified by the coming judgement. The Dies Irae makes one last appearance to remind the listener about the horror to come that makes the soprano tremble. 
Libera me
Soprano Solo and Chorus
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death,
on that dreadful day,
when the heavens and earth shall be moved,
when you come to judge
the world through fire.
I am made to tremble and to fear,
awaiting the judgement that shall come,
and also at your coming wrath,
when the heavens and earth shall be moved.

Dies irae
That day, day of wrath,
of calamity and misery,
 great and exceedingly bitter day,
when you come to judge
the world through fire.

Requiem aeternam
Grant them rest eternal, Lord,
and may perpetual light shine on them.

Libera me - The soloist grows desperate, only to be answered by a fugue for the chorus.  After the fugue and passionate singing by the soloist that goes from the bottom of her register to the top, the orchestra roars through as section until the soloist grows hushed and is directed by Verdi to sing without strict time as she chants Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death, on that dreadful day. The chorus and soloist sing in a very subdued triple piano dynamic Libera me two times, and the music dies away. 
Deliver me, Lord, from eternal death,
on that dreadful day,
when the heavens and earth shall be moved,
when you come to judge
the world through fire.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Albéniz - Suite española

When the father of Isaac Albéniz realized that his young son displayed prodigious musical talent
(little Isaac reportedly gave his first concert when he was 4 years old), the boy divided his time between studying and giving concerts. His parents took him to Paris, but he was denied entry into the Conservatoire because he was too young.  The pressure put on him by his father to study and give concerts may have been the reason Isaac made many attempts to run away from home.

Albéniz's father was a custom's agent, and on his job-related travels he took Isaac and his younger sister on a concert tour of northern Spain. Isaac was nine years old when his concert career began and by the age of fifteen he had traveled many parts of the world concertizing, and contrary to legends about Albéniz running away from home as a stow away on a ship to South America, his father accompanied him on his travels.

He concertized as a pianist for most of his life, in addition to composing. His style made a major shift from salon pieces to music that reflected the mood, rhythm and style of the traditional music of Spain.  Albéniz's was original in that he did not use folk tunes in his works, but he adapted the style of the Spanish folk tune.

 Suite española originally had only four pieces included, but after Albéniz died in 1909 his publisher added four more pieces to make the version of the work that is most well known.  The original four pieces are named after regions of Spain along with the type of dance or musical form used. Some of the four additional works added after Albéniz's death do not retain this distinction. The names were chosen by the publisher and not Albéniz himself.

All but one of the eight pieces in the suite are in ternary form with a contrasting middle section called a copla, an interlude of a vocal nature.  Albéniz heard many guitar players of Spain, and when some of the pieces from the suite were arranged for guitar he was delighted, and said that was the sound he had in mind when he wrote the pieces.

I. Granada (Serenade) - The meaning of the word serenade is derived from the Italian word for calm.. Albéniz creates a mood of calmness with a simple melody in the bass accompanied by rolled chords in the right hand in imitation of a guitar:
The middle section has the melody move up to the right hand and alternates between minor and major mode. Granada along with Asturias is one of the pieces of this suite most often transcribed for guitar. Granada was the last Arab-held part of Spain, and it was one of Albéniz's favorite places to be, as he wrote in a letter:
I think that Granada, where I am, is 'the treasure of Andalusian music.' I also believe that I must write this, as I am convinced that my youth is full of enough musical experiences to embark in the conquest of this wonderful land, endowed with exquisiteness, cordiality and love, but safe-keeping all this as the Arabs safe-kept the flowers of their garden and the women in their palaces.
II. Cataluña (Courante) -   The only piece in the suite that is not in ternary form. It has a dotted rhythmic pulse in the melody, and after it is played through a short coda brings the piece to a close.  Some have suggested that this piece was in honor of Albéniz's mother who had recently died.

III. Sevilla (Sevillanas) -  The sevillanas are dances that can be mistaken for Flamenco, but while it was influenced by flamenco in the early 19th century it is not the same. After the repeated notes in the bass ends the first section, the middle section begins with a plaintive melody played two octaves apart.

IV. Cádiz (Canción) -  Canción means song in Spanish, and the form is descendant from the saeta, a song of religious nature that may have had Jewish origins that go back to the 16th century. This piece evokes the subtler rhythms of Flamenco.

V. Asturias (Leyenda) - This piece is the most glaring example of the mismatching of a style to a region in the suite. The music of the Asturias region of Spain has nothing in common with the Flamenco style of the music. The subtitle Leyenda meaning Legend,  is not any dance or song form, but it is descriptive of the mood of the piece. It opens with an imitation of a Flamenco guitarist with the melody in the left hand intertwined with the repeated note in the right hand:
Albéniz imitated the guitar so well that this piece was adapted quite readily to the guitar and is more often heard in that version than the original piano version. The entire first section expands on this beginning, and is punctuated by leaps of accented chords in the right hand and octaves in the left while the melody still manages to be carried in the left hand. The slower central section is made up of different subsections that refer to motives in the opening. The first section repeats and a short coda brings one of the most representative of Spanish piano pieces to a hushed ending.

VI. Aragón (Fantasía) -  This piece has a reoccurring motive of a triplet on the second beat of the measure throughout. Repeated sixteenth notes herald the middle section which is title copla by the composer. It is a mellow theme in thirds. The copla does not last long, as the tempo of the beginning returns and the music plays a variant of the opening theme that magically repeats, twists and turns upon itself.  A short section with rolled chords in the right hand over a melody in the left segues to a repeat of the first section. A coda closes this excellent piece solidly in F major.

VII. Castilla (Seguidilla) - In another guitar inspired rhythm, the melody is in the left hand in this seguidillas, an ancient Castillian dance.

VIII. Cuba (Capriccio) -  Has also been referred to as a nocturne, Albéniz included Cuba as a region of Spain because it was indeed a possession of Spain at the time the piece was written, and Albéniz had played many concerts there. The piece is in 6/8 time and the first section's main feature is a melody that in the second and third bar of the phrase plays two notes against three in the left hand:
The middle section is in more the mood of a nocturne.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Rachmaninoff - Symphonic Dances, Opus 45

 Sergei Rachmaninoff completed his last major work, the Symphonic Dances, in 1940. It had a good reception at the time of its premiere in 1941 with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. But subsequent performances were received lukewarmly, and Ormandy showed no interest in recording the work. 

It was the time of the modernists like Schoenberg and Stravinsky, who each in their own style changed the world of classical music for composers and audiences. Rachmaninoff's music looked backwards instead of forwards. Indeed, his previous composition, the Third Symphony,  was akin to the Symphonic Dances as it reflected his past. Rachmaninoff himself knew this better than anyone else. Interviewed in 1939, he admitted:

I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me.

After leaving Russia at a time of great political and cultural upheaval in 1917, Rachmaninoff eventually made his way to the United States and relied on his incredible piano technique and conducting skills to make a living for himself and family. He grew to become financially well-off, so much so that he could afford another home in Lucerne, Switzerland, where he would spend time during the concert off season. It was there that he composed most of his later works. Symphonic Dances was the only major work that was composed in The United States.  

I. Non allegro - The music begins quietly with the ticking of strings and the commentary of solo woodwinds in turn. The music turns loud with drums punctuating a rhythmic drive that continues throughout the first section. A piano joins in as the rhythmic dance continues. instruments in turn enter and make their comments, almost like the music is a concerto for orchestra. The first section winds down as the oboe and clarinet herald the beginning of the middle section which is carried by a solo saxophone. The saxophone makes few appearances in the symphony orchestra, but Rachmaninoff's use of it makes a listener wonder why. The tone of the instrument blends nicely with the rest of the woodwinds. Rachmaninoff may have written in a less than modern style for the time, but there is no doubting his skill and talent for orchestration and melody. 

The first section returns with brilliance as Rachmaninoff continues to showcase the differing timbres of the orchestral instruments. As the movement begins to wind down, a new theme is played by the strings and accompanied by piano, glockenspiel, and harp. This theme is a reworking of a theme from his 1st Symphony, which was heard only once in 1897 in Russia. The work had a disastrous premiere, and Rachmaninoff abandoned it. After the reminiscence of the theme, the movement quietly ends with short snippets of the beginning. 

II. Andante con moto (Tempo di valse) - It is indeed a waltz as Rachmaninoff designates, but it begins in 6/8 time rather than the usual 3/4 time of a waltz. Rachmaninoff visits the waltz form with ingenuity, a continuation of instrument spotlighting and nostalgia, with some eerie sounds thrown in, like the sounds of muted horns and trumpets. There is a solo for violin that leads the proceedings. There is an atmosphere of haunted dreaminess in the music. The pace quickens near the end, as the instruments (or dancers) scurry off the dance floor. 

III. Lento assai - Allegro vivace -  After the poor reception of his Third Symphony in 1936,  Rachmaninoff vowed to cease composing. His career of concert pianist and conductor were taking up most of his time, and felt underappreciated as a composer. But it wasn't the first time that he had tried to give up composing. After the disaster of his First Symphony, he stopped composing for three years. And like so many years ago, the inner drive for creative work returned to him in 1940 when he wrote the Symphonic Dances. The final movement has the same basic A-B-A form as the other two, and it shares the brilliance in orchestration as well. A section from his setting of the Russian Orthodox All Night Vigil is used, along with what was a somewhat ubiquitous theme for Rachmaninoff, the Latin hymn Dies irae. The Dies irae theme was referenced in many of his compositions. 

The movement begins with a reworking of snippets of the Dies irae, punctuated by bells and other percussion. The Dies irae continues with syncopations until a climax is reached. A different, more laid-back version of the theme is heard in low strings with the glissandos of harps. parts of the Russian Orthodox litany is also heard. The middle section is in contrast to the two turbulent outer sections, with parts of it vaguely similar to the Dies irae theme that are more tranquil. The final section brings back the Dies irae theme, but this time it is in competition with a Russian chant Blessed Is The Lord. The Russian chant wins out, and a new theme, Allilyua, taken from his 1915 work for chorus All-Night Vigil. The work ends in a blaze of rhythmic percussion and full orchestra.

Rachmaninoff was 67 years old when he wrote Symphonic Dances, and his many years of extensive traveling, piano playing (piano players are prone to bad backs and arthritis), and cigarette smoking took a toll on his health. The concert season of 1939 was especially tiring for him, and he himself said after writing the work, "It must have been my final spark". He was a deeply religious man, and at the end of the manuscript he wrote, "I thank thee, Lord." 



Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Cowell - The Banshee

Henry Cowell (1897-1965) was an American composer, teacher and pianist.  He was a part of the avant-garde movement in music at the turn of the 20th century, and experimented with complex rhythms, atonality, and was an early advocate of the use of tone clusters

He also would play directly on the strings of the piano, sometimes for the entire piano piece. The Banshee is one of those pieces. A Banshee is from Irish mythology, is usually female. and appears as an omen of death and to bring messages from the other world.  The Banshee begins to wail when someone is about to die, and some legends say that each Irish family has their own Banshee. 

The work is for two performers and a grand piano. One performer merely holds down the damper pedal of the piano while the other stands at the bend of the piano. Cowell directs this performer to wave their hands over the strings like a harp, to pluck the strings, to scrape their fingernails over the strings of the bass notes. Cowell brings out some very distinctive, different sounds from the piano, well suited to the subject of the piece.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Saint-Saëns - La Muse et le Poète, Opus 132

In 1907 a statue of Saint-Saëns was exhibited in the Paris Salon. An admirer of Saint-Saëns saw it, a Mme. J-Henry Carruette, (obviously a woman of means), and wanted to present it to the town of Dieppe. But there was an actual law at the time that strictly forbade a statue being erected to a living person. Mme Carutte (and no doubt others) worked some political magic, and the statue was allowed to be erected. The irascible Saint-Saëns was not impressed. He considered that he must be dead to have a statue erected, so therefore he didn't have to make a speech at the unveiling. 

When Mme. Carruette died in 1909, Saint-Saëns wrote a one-movement piano trio and dedicated it to her. Despite the objections of Saint-Saëns, his publisher insisted on giving the title The Muse And The Poet to the work. But Saint-Saëns obviously like the work, so he orchestrated it shortly afterwards, and that is the version that is played today. 

At the time, Saint-Saëns was bristling against the dominance of German formal music structures, so the piece has an improvisatory quality to it. Saint-Saëns grew more and more against German music, to the point of demanding that it should never be played in France during World War One. 

As much as Saint-Saëns disliked the title, it isn't inappropriate. The music begins in a somber tone with the orchestra, but when the violin enters, the mood brightens. The cello enters and things get gloomy again, but the violin keeps going and convinces the cello to brighten its mood too. The work is a difficult one for the soloists, but Saint-Saëns said it was a conversation between the two soloists instead of a debate between two virtuosos.  

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Verdi - Don Carlo, Grand Inquisitor Scene

Guiseppe Verdi's longest opera is Don Carlo, and was written in 1866 to a French libretto that was taken from a German play by Friedrich Schiller titled Don Carlos, Infant von Spanien (Don Carlos, Infante Of Spain) as well as elements from a contemporary play about Phillip II of Spain. As if that isn't enough rigamarole for an opera subject, the opera went through an Italian translation almost immediately as well as numerous changes and versions over the years. The original opera was in 5 acts and took almost 4 hours to perform, so Verdi himself made some of the changes to accommodate the action and the audience. 

The story is based on the conflicts of Don Carlos, Prince of Asturias, and his father King Phillip II of Spain. One of the main dramatic points of the opera was taken from the fact that the wedding plans for Don Carlos were changed by a peace treaty that demanded that the same woman marry his father instead! 

The opera had its French premiere in March of 1867 and was titled Don Carlos. The Italian version premiered not in Italy, but London in June of 1867 and was titled Don Carlo. With many version over the years, the opera was performed in the remainder of the 19th century but fell out of favor at the turn of the 20th century. It wasn't until the latter half of the 20th century that the work entered the repertoire in two main versions, both in Italian. 

There are some fine scenes in the opera, with one of the best being the Grand Inquisitor Scene. As with many grand opera plots, the only way to make any sense of a scene is to know what in the works is going on, so here's is a synopsis of the goings-on up until the scene:

King Phillip indeed marries Don Carlo's former fiancee, but he suspects that Don Carlo is having an affair with her. Don Carlo does tell his step-mother that he still loves her, but she refuses his advances. His friend Rodrigue, Marquis of Posa tries to convince Don Carlo to leave Spain and go to Flanders to engage in political work and forget his lovesickness. 

Another woman, Princess Eboli loves Don Carlos, and tries to blackmail him into marrying her by threatening to tell the King that his wife has been unfaithful with Don Carlo. (When he rejects her, she does just that. Meanwhile, preparations are being made by the monks for an auto-da-fé, the burning in public of heretics.) The public celebrates and King Phillip II tells them he will protect them. Don Carlo enters with envoys from Flanders that plead for their country's freedom. Don Carlo demands that that the King give him authority to rule Flanders, but the King scornfully refuses. Don Carlo draws his sword, but Posa takes it from him. The King is impressed with Posa's loyalty and considers him a friend, even when he knows the Grand Inquisitor is watching Posa because of his concern for the Flemish nation. Guards arrest Don Carlo as the wood is ignited and the heretics are burned alive.

The King can't sleep, and bemoans the fact that his new bride doesn't love him in an aria in his study Ella giammai m'amòAfter his lament, the Grand Inquisitor scene begins. It is a duet for King Phillip and the Grand Inquisitor, both roles sung by a bass.

The blind, ninety-year-old Grand Inquisitor is announced and is lead into the King's apartment by two monks. When the King asks if the Church will object to him putting his own son to death, the Inquisitor replies that the King will be in good company: God sacrificed His own son. In return for his support, the Inquisitor demands that the King have Posa killed. The King refuses at first to kill his friend, whom he admires and likes. However, the Grand Inquisitor reminds the King that the Inquisition can take down any king; he has created and destroyed other rulers before. Frightened and overwhelmed, the King begs the Grand Inquisitor to forget about the past discussion. The latter replies – perhaps! – and leaves. The King bitterly muses on his helplessness to oppose the Church.

The first video of the scene has English subtitles, the libretto is at  the end of the post:

The next video is a great performance by Nicolai Ghiaurov as King Phillip, and Martti Talvela as the Grand Inquisitor:

The final video is from a production for German television with Josef Greindl as the King and Martti Talvela once again as the Inquisitor. It has been translated to German, and the performance is stunning.

The libretto for the scene:

COUNT LERMA
entering
The Grand Inquisitor!

Exit Lerma. The Grand Inquisitor, ninety years old and blind, enters, assisted by two Dominicans.

INQUISITOR
Am I before the King?

PHILIP
Yes, I need your help, my father, enlighten me.
Carlos has filled my heart with bitter sadness,
the Infante has rebelled in arms against his father.

INQUISITOR
What have you decided to do about him?

PHILIP
Everything … or nothing!

INQUISITOR
Explain yourself!

PHILIP
He must go away … or by the sword …

INQUISITOR
Well then?

PHILIP
If I strike down the Infante, will your hand absolve me?

INQUISITOR

The peace of the world is worth the blood of a son.

PHILIP
Can I as a Christian sacrifice my son to the world?

INQUISITOR
God sacrificed his own, to save us all.

PHILIP
Can you justify in all cases such a harsh faith?

INQUISITOR
Wherever a Christian follows the faith of Calvary.

PHILIP
Will the ties of nature and blood remain silent in me?

INQUISITOR
Everything bows and is silent when faith speaks!

PHILIP
It is well!

INQUISITOR
Philip II has nothing more to say to me?

PHILIP
No!

INQUISITOR
Then I shall speak to you, Sire!
In this beautiful land, untainted by heresy,
a man dares to undermine the divine order.
He is a friend of the King, his intimate confidant,
the tempting demon who is pushing him to the brink.
The criminal intent of which you accuse the Infante
is but child's play compared with his,
and I, the Inquisitor, I, as long as I raise
against obscure criminals the hand which wields the sword,
while forgoing my wrath against those with power in the world,
I let live in peace this great wrongdoer … and you!

PHILIP
To see us through the days of trial in which we live,
I have sought in my court, that vast desert of men,
a man, a sure friend … and I have found him!

INQUISITOR
Why
A man? And by what right do you call yourself King,
Sire, if you have equals?

PHILIP
Be quiet, priest!

INQUISITOR
The spirit of the reformers already enters your soul!
You wish to throw off with your feeble hand
the holy yoke which covers the Roman universe!
Return to your duty! The Church, like a good mother,
can still embrace a sincere penitent.
Deliver the Marquis of Posa to us!

PHILIP
No, never!

INQUISITOR
O King, if I were not here, in this palace
today, by the living God, tomorrow you yourself,
you would be before us at the supreme tribunal!

PHILIP
Priest! I have suffered your criminal audacity for too long!

INQUISITOR
Why do you evoke the shade of Samuel?
I have given two kings to this mighty empire,
my whole life's work, you want to destroy it …
What did I come here for? What do you want of me?

He starts to leave.

PHILIP
My father, may peace be restored between us.

INQUISITOR
continuing to move off
Peace?

PHILIP
Let the past be forgotten!

INQUISITOR
at the door, as he leaves
Perhaps!

PHILIP
The pride of the King withers before the pride of the priest!