Program Notes for 5 & 6 November 2011

ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with guest artist KATHRYN MONTOYA, Baroque oboe and recorders

7:30 p. m., Saturday, 5 November 2011, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 6 November 2011, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales

MUSIC OF THE FRENCH BAROQUE

Trio in F major................................................................................................................. Pierre Gaultier de Marseille (1642?-1696)
Carillon
Air
Chaconne

Suite #3 ....................................................................................................................................Pierre Danican Philidor (1681-1731)
Lentement
Fugue
Rondeau
Chaconne

Le Rossignol-en-amour ..................................................................................................................François Couperin (1668-1733)
Lentement, et très tendrement, quoy que mesuré
Double

Suite in A minor.............................................................................................................................. Robert de Visée (c. 1655-1733) Prélude
Allemande: grave
Courante
Sarabande
Gigue
Gavotte
La Montfermeil: rondeau

*****intermission*****

11e Concert.......................................................................................................................................................................... Couperin
Majestueusement, sans trop de lenteur
Allemande: fièrement, sans lenteur
Courante
Seconde courante
Sarabande: très grave, et très marquée
Gigue: lourée
Rondeau: légèrement, et galament

Trio in E minor........................................................................................................................................... Marin Marais (1656-1728)
Prélude: lentement—un peu plus viste—gravement
Gavotte
Rondeau
Sarabande en rondeau
Menuet
Caprice: lentement
Passacaille

It’s well documented that the novelty and brilliance of late 17 th-century Italian instrumental works, notably those by Arcangelo Corelli, encouraged French composers to produce chamber music in the new style, for one or two treble instruments with basso continuo. Glance, though, at our program: no sonatas, no allegros or andantes or adagios. French musicians tended to focus, rather, on suites of dances, which had been a significant part of court life and court theatre since the 16 th century, and on character pieces. Even in the 18 th century, abstract music didn’t fit comfortably into Gallic aesthetics, and it made its way only gradually into the French Enlightenment. “Sonata, what do you mean to me?” the French philosophe and wit Bernard de Fontenelle would query, and his words were later cited with favor by others. In general, for the French, “art for art’s sake” was an alien ideal, and music had to have some extra-musical connection. Nearly every selection on our program adheres to this precept.

Among our chosen composers, Fran çois Couperin is surely the best known, and he was the most enthusiastic in espousing and touting musical Italianisms. Yet his eleventh Concert sits securely on the French side of the Alps. Perhaps because it was written to comfort the aging and conservative Louis XIV, it comprises merely a prelude, French dances, and a final rondeau—no character pieces, and no modern galanteries. One might even consider the rondeau—a favorite French form, in which the initial musical material returns, alternating with new material—a sort of dance. (One writer has called it a slow gigue, but this seems a bit farfetched.) The prevailing mood is somber, and melodies as well as bass lines are often spiky and uncompromising. For Couperin, a concert wasn’t an Italian concerto, but simply a work for musicians to perform together. Like many Baroque composers, he doesn’t specify instrumentation, and he allows performance by keyboard alone.

In a way, “Le Rossignol-en-amour,” or The Nightingale in Love, demonstrates the reverse: that is, it’s specifically a keyboard piece, yet Couperin stated that it might be played by a flutist. Further, he emphasized that “one couldn’t do better” than to perform it on flute! (Pace Couperin, but we’ll use a recorder.) This piece, along with three others named after birds, forms the first part of the composer’s 11 thordre, or suite, for harpsichord, published in 1722 in his third book of harpsichord pieces. The nightingale was traditionally associated with the yearnings of young love, and all four pieces reflect stages of a love affair.

Marin Marais and Robert de Vis ée were two of Couperin’s slightly older contemporaries, and we’ve chosen to perform a dance suite by each of them on our program. Marais, the son of a Parisian shoemaker, was hardly destined to join the ranks of court musicians. However, thanks to the patronage of an uncle, the rigorous viol teaching of Sainte-Colombe, the tutelage of the powerful Jean-Baptiste Lully, and his own musicianship, Marais did just that. Besides over 600 works for one and two viols, Marais published a book of trios for two treble instruments and continuo (1692), from which our suite comes. Vis ée, another of Louis XIV’s chamber musicians, played what was reputedly the king’s favorite instrument: the five-course Baroque guitar. He became the guitar instructor for the king and performed regularly at court and in the evenings at Louis’ bedside. Most of his music is for a solo plucked string instrument; the ten suites published posthumously in 1716, including the one on our program, were first composed for lute or theorbo.

Marais’ and Vis ée’s suites follow the same pattern as Couperin’s, opening with a prelude and moving into a series of French dances, and, like Couperin’s, they are for unspecified instruments. Vis ée’s final rondeau is named after a village now at the edge of the suburbs northeast of Paris; then, it must have seemed at a much greater remove from the capital city, and even further from the court at Versailles, which lay southwest of central Paris. In contrast to Vis ée’s, Marais’ concluding movement is a passacaille, which originated not as a dance, but as a harmonic sequence used to underpin songs and variations. As the 18 th century approached, however, the passacaille became virtually indistinguishable from a chaconne, which is in fact a dance, also built on a series of harmonies. Both were normally in triple meter. A regal passacaille or chaconne is frequently found at the end of an act in French operas and as the last movement in dance suites.

A chaconne closes the suite by Pierre Danican Philidor, a younger contemporary of Couperin, but beyond that movement, dances have disappeared. Oddly, Philidor’s chaconne is in duple meter. Times were indeed changing, and more Italianate, galant trends were crowding out the older French style. Presumably, Philidor, whose suite was published in 1718, didn’t have to worry about pleasing Louis XIV, who had died in 1715.

Philidor belonged to a musical family of composers and instrument builders. Together with the Hotteterres, another multi-generational clan of musicians and manufacturers of instruments, they worked at altering older wind instruments—oboes, flutes, and bassoons—so that they would blend with each other and with violins. Consequently, they could, and did, join the opera orchestra and the chamber musicians of the king. Philidor is the only composer on our program who specified instruments—flutes, in this case—for his suite, yet he broadened the possibilities by adding that “oboes, recorders, violins, etc.” would be suitable, too.

Couperin, Marais, Vis ée, and Philidor, though they sometimes worked in Paris, away from the endless demands of court life at Versailles, occupied positions under Louis XIV and Louis XV. All of them composed more instrumental music than vocal music and became known as performers—respectively, as harpsichordist, gambist, guitarist, and oboist. The odd man out, and the oldest composer represented on our program, is Pierre Gaultier (also spelled Gautier), an opera impresario and composer from Provence. Of necessity, his activities had to be authorized by Lully, who held all the royal privileges for any theatre production that included music. Gaultier established an opera house in Marseilles and toured opera performances to various communities in southern France. He of course produced operas by Lully, but he composed and mounted his own, too. Sadly, little remains of them. What we have by Gaultier is several publications and manuscripts of instrumental music. Our suite comes from a 1707 publication—posthumous—of duos and trios that Gaultier called, collectively, “symphonies.” Note that the suite ends with a chaconne. Gaultier was lost at sea along with his brother, many of his opera troupe, and all of the troupe’s equipment.

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