Synopsis: Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher

von Arthur Honegger

Joan of Arc at the Stake

The chorus bewails the desolation of France during the war with England. A voice proclaims the coming of a girl named Joan, but the chorus continues to lament.

Scene 1: The voices from heaven
The chorus calls on Joan.

Scene 2: The book
Brother Dominic (St Dominic, the founder of the Dominican order) brings a book down from heaven and shows it to Joan as she stands chained to the stake. It contains the story of her life and he reads from it.

Scene 3: The voices from earth
Dominic reads out the accusations of heretic, sorceress and apostate. Joan tries to understand why they should wish to burn her, since she had revered the priests and loved the people.
The people call for her death. Dominic tells her that the priests who condemned her had become beasts.

Scene 4: Joan thrown to the beasts
Joan's trial is conducted by the animals. The tiger, the fox and the serpent decline the role of president of the court, which is accepted by the pig. The sheep are the assessors and the donkey is the recorder.
Joan admits that she overcame the English by her own strength, but denies the accusation that she was helped by the devil. However, the court rules that she has said Yes. The court and the people call for her death.

Scene 5: Joan at the stake
The chorus proclaims Joan a heretic and a witch and she repeats the accusations, feeling that they must be true if the wise priests have said so. But Dominic assures her that the great men who have condemned her believe not in God but the devil, and therefore believe she was helped not by angels but by the devil.
When the bewildered Joan asks how a poor shepherdess could have come to this, Dominic answers that it was the result of a game of cards invented by a mad king.

Scene 6: The kings, or the invention of card games
The heralds announce the game. There are four kings: the kings of France and England, the Duke of Burgundy and Death; four queens: Stupidity, Pride, Avarice and Lust; and four knaves: The English Duke of Bedford and three French noblemen.
They play cards, in a game where to win is to lose and in either case the result is a pocket full of money. As a result Joan is handed over to the Duke of Bedford.

Scene 7: Catherine and Margaret
Bells toll and Joan welcomes them as friends. The voices of the saints Catherine and Margaret call on her and she remembers how she first heard them in her home in Domremy. They command her to escort the King of France to Rheims to be crowned.

Scene 8: The king departs for Rheims
The people of France celebrate the marriage of the miller Heurtebise (representing good French bread) with Mother Barrel (representing good French wine). They are interrupted by a priest who reproves them for celebrating Christmas Eve like pagans while the king is on his way to Rheims to be crowned.
He gathers the people round him to sing a coronation hymn. They cheer as the king goes by. Joan cries out that it was she, with the help of God, who brought the unwilling king to be crowned and thus saved France.

Scene 9: Joan's sword
Joan rejoices at the beauty of the spring around her. Dominic asks her to explain her sword. She hears the voices not only of the saints calling her but also the people, who call her by her name, no longer witch and heretic. Dominic again asks her about the sword and she answers that he would have to be a child in her native Lorraine to understand.
The voices of children are heard singing Trimazo, a carol of Lorraine. Everything is made clear by the glory of spring in Lorraine, Joan explains. Her sword, which was given to her by Saint Michael, is the sword of love. She proclaims that hope and faith will triumph over her burning.

Scene 10: Trimazo
Joan herself sings the children's song Trimazo.

Scene 11: The burning of Joan of Arc
The chorus reproaches Joan for stirring up trouble and disturbing the peaceful order of things by resisting the English and having the king crowned. They praise the fire which will show whether God or the devil was on her side. The Virgin tells Joan that she is not alone, but Joan is afraid to die.
A priest offers her the escape of signing a paper declaring she had lied, but she replies that she is held back by stronger chains than those that bind her hands - those of love.
The Virgin continues to encourage Joan and to help her overcome her fear of the flames. She says that Joan herself is a flame in the middle of France and the people sing praises of Joan, the flame of France. The voices of the Virgin and saints Catherine and Margaret call Joan and she breaks her chains: the chains that hold soul to body. She proclaims the power of joy, love and God.