ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with guest DEREK CHESTER, tenor
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 12 September 2015, Fellowship Christian Church
3:00p. m., Sunday, 13 September 2015, Historic Old San Ysidro Church
Season of Song: The French Baroque
Cinquiéme Suitte Pierre Danican-Philidor (1681-1731)
Sarabande: très tendrement
L’Impatience Jean-Philipp Rameau (1683-1764)
Air tender: gracieusement
tenor, viola da gamba, continuo
Sonata no. 2 in D major Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
Air: très gai
tenor, oboe, continuo
For our 2015-2016 “Season of Song,” the Albuquerque Baroque Players have the pleasure of bringing you a full season of concerts featuring both vocal and instrumental music. We love working with singers, and are delighted to have engaged four outstanding Baroque specialists who have sung with us in years past. For this opening concert we welcome back Derek Chester, who appeared with us in an all-Bach program in September 2014.
If you’ve attended many of our concerts over the years, you know that we love French Baroque music. Our guest artist has chosen two cantatas by Jean-Philippe Rameau, to which we will add two instrumental works by Rameau’s compatriots and contemporaries.
One of a large family of French musicians, Pierre Danican Philidor worked at the courts of Louis XIV and Louis XV as flutist, oboist, viol player and composer. In 1717 he published his Opus 1, “containing 3 suites for two solo transverse flutes, with 3 others [for] treble and bass, for oboes, flutes, violins, etc.” Our selection, performed here on oboe, comprises a prelude followed by three of the four core dances (all but the courante) of the classic French suite. The stately prelude suggests a royal entrance, with a flourish or two in the oboe line. Two courtly dances—an allemande and a sarabande—follow; the latter is in the form of a rondeau, where a recurring theme alternates with contrasting episodes or couplets. What’s remarkable about this “sarabande en rondeau” is the abrupt change in tempo and character at the second couplet, marked “un peu plus gay” (“a bit more lively”) and cadencing in E major before returning to the très tendre rondeau theme. A lively gigue, with points of imitation between treble and bass, concludes the suite.
While the suite, with its preponderance of dance movements, was a characteristically—though not exclusively—French genre, the more abstract sonata didn’t catch on in France until the early 18th century, when an edition of Arcangelo Corelli’s opus-5 sonatas for violin was published in Paris. A mania for composing Italianate sonatas ensued. Among France’s early exponents of the sonata was Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who attracted the attention of Louis XIV as a five-year-old prodigy and who remained at court until her marriage. Besides performing and teaching, Jacquet de la Guerre composed a ballet, an opera, sacred and secular cantatas, pieces for harpsichord, and solo and trio sonatas. Her six sonatas for violin and continuo, published in 1707, were among the first to be composed in France; we’ll perform the second sonata from this volume, substituting recorder for violin. Our selection is on the Corellian four-movement model, albeit biased in favor of “presto” movements! This work is largely Italianate, especially in the outer movements with their virtuosic passagework and points of contrapuntal imitation, as well is in the quasi-improvisatory Adagio. The third movement, built on a descending scale-wise motif and featuring some quirky cross-rhythms, is an example of Jacquet’s affection for folk-like material. Also characteristic of her music are quick shifts between major and minor modes: midway through this same movement, the music slips into D minor, returning to the major key only in the finale.
Jean-Philippe Rameau is best known for his keyboard music—some of which you may have heard on previous ABP concerts—and for his operas. Unlike Philidor, Jacquet de la Guerre, and many if not most of the prominent musicians in Baroque France, Rameau never held a court position, working instead as an organist in Paris and elsewhere before settling permanently in the capital, where he established a reputation as a theorist, composer, and teacher of harmony and continuo playing. While he had first become interested in opera as a 12-year-old schoolboy, his first tragédie en musique appeared only in 1733, when the composer was 50 years old. His seven cantatas, composed during the 1720s, have been described as studies for future operas—and, in fact, he sent two cantatas to the eminent librettist Houdar de la Motte as evidence of his operatic capabilities.
The pastoral cantata L’Impatience, like most of Rameau’s cantatas,is structured on a formula established by the librettist Jean-Baptiste Rousseau: “three recitatives interspersed with as many airs”. To summarize: an impatient lover watches the sunrise and waits in vain for his beloved Corinna, then muses on the disparity between his lot and that of the contented birds in the surrounding grove; perhaps Cupid is tormenting him only by way of increasing his ultimate pleasure. Finally Corinna appears, and the now-satisfied lover acknowledges and accepts the price exacted by Cupid.
Of the three airs in this cantata, the most French, musically speaking, is the graceful Air tendre in binary (AABB) form, which recalls the simple, straightforward air de cour, or courtly air. Much more Italianate are the two da capo (ABA) airs, both of which feature virtuosic—even concerto-like—writing for the obbligato viola da gamba in counterpoint with the vocal line. Modern commentators have been somewhat dismissive of these airs, describing the music (especially the gamba part) as “abstract”—i.e., having no relation to the text. But surely the insistently rising scale-wise sequences in the Air gai help to convey a mood of … impatience! And perhaps the agitated perpetual motion of the concluding Air léger captures the tension between love’s pleasure and love’s rigor.
Orphée, the other cantata on our program, anticipates the emergence of Rameau the dramatist. Here Rameau again observes the convention of paired recitatives and airs, with the singer taking the roles of both Orpheus and narrator, but expands the middle sectioninto a miniature drama. The opening recitative ends on a bit of text-painting over the word “chants”(“songs”), followed by a triumphal air celebrating Orpheus’ heroic rescue of his Eurydice from the realm of the dead. In the central Air gracieux, Orpheus’ brief D-major love song abruptly gives way to an accompanied recitative in the tonally-distant key of B-flat as his impatience to see Eurydice gets the better of him; his agitation is underscored by rapid outbursts from the viola da gamba. In the arioso (a hybrid of recitative and aria) that follows without pause, the oboe joins in Orpheus’ lament. There’s a striking bit of text-painting—in all three voices—on the word “volez” (“fly”) as he begs Cupid to fly to Hades and intercede for him. Throughout this dramatic episode the music has moved through a range of flat keys, possibly symbolizing the descent to the underworld. With the concluding Air gai we’re back in the sharp key of G major. This curiously upbeat finale (described by Rameau’s biographer Cuthbert Girdlestone as “a heartless anticlimax”!) is a departure from other musical treatments of the Orpheus legend, where Orpheus is either reunited with Eurydice or transported to the heavens. Here, the text is explicitly didactic, warning of the pitfalls of impetuosity and impatience. Presumably Orpheus has learned the same lesson as the lover in L’Impatience—but at a far greater cost.
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