Fantasy and Fugue: Concert III
A Portrait of Love
9 e Concert, intitulé Ritratto dell’ amore.................................................................................................. François Couperin (1668-1733)
Le Charme: Gracieusement, et gravement
Les Graces: Courante françoise
Le Je-ne-scay-quoy: Gayëment
La noble Fierté, Sarabande: Gravement
La Douceur: Amoureusement
L’et Cætera, ou Menuets
oboe d’amore, oboe, recorder, violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo
Love Unrequited, but Still Quite Nice
Pan et Sirinx ..........................................................................................................................Michel Pignolet de Montéclair (1667-1737)
soprano, oboe, recorder, violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo
Fickle Love: No, or Yes?
Love frowns in beauteous Myra’s eyes .................................................................................Johann Christoph Pepusch (1667-1752)
soprano, recorder, basso continuo
The Progress of Love
Les Folies françoises, ou les Dominos, from the 13 e ordre...................................................................................................... Couperin
La Virginité sous le Domino couleur d’invisible: Gracieusement
La Pudeur sous le Domino couleur de rose: Tendrement
L’ardeur sous le Domino incarnat: Animé
L’esperance sous le Domino vert: Gayement
La Fidélité sous le Domino bleu: Affectueusement
La Persévérance sous le Domino gris de lin: Tendrement, sans lenteur
La Langueur sous le Domino violet: Egalement
La Coquéterie sous diférens Dominos: Gayement—Modéré—Légérement
Les vieux galans et les Trésorieres suranées. Sous des Dominos pourpres, et feüilles mortes:
Les coucous bénévoles sous des Dominos jaunes: Coucou coucou La Jalousie taciturne sous le Domino gris de Maure:
Lentement, et mesuré
La Frénésie, ou le Désespoir sous le Domino noir: tres vite
L’âme-en-peine, from the 13 e ordre
Love of God through Nature
Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle.............................................................................................................. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Meine Seele hört im Sehen
soprano, oboe, violin, basso continuo
If you joined us for the first two concerts of our 2009-2010 season, you’ll recall that this season’s theme is “Fantasy and Fugue,” an allusion to the twin Baroque qualities of spontaneity and control. Both of these qualities are still present in this Valentine-weekend program, although one might say that we’ve chosen to focus on fantasy—albeit not without a dose or two of reality!—as we explore the many aspects of love. We are delighted to welcome Kathryn Mueller as our guest artist for this pair of concerts; she will join us for two cantatas and a pair of songs on this all-time favorite topic.
Besides the vocal works, we have selected two instrumental pieces, both by François Couperin, that evoke various facets of love. In both of these works, Couperin alludes to a French genre, the pièce de caractère (“character piece”) within the more pan-European structures of the dance suite and the variation form. The Ritratto dell’ amore (“Portrait of love”) is one of a set of concerts (pieces for two or more instruments) in which Couperin sought to unite French and Italian styles. Given the sometimes-provocative titles of the various movements, it’s only natural to speculate on what this suite might mean. For example, it could be a musical portrait of a real or imaginary lady, or perhaps a series of vignettes of the progress of a love affair, although Philippe Beaussaint maintains that Couperin was simply “amusing himself, and offering his listeners an amusing moment ... with the music itself setting the rules.” In any event, the overall form of this “portrait” is similar to that of Couperin’s other concerts: a prelude in the French style followed by a series of (mostly) dances in both French and Italian styles. Not all of the dances are identified as such: “L’enjouement” is an allemande, and “La douceur” is a forlane—originally a flirtation dance! Among the more Italianate movements are the minuets (tantalizingly titled “L’et caetera”) and the aptly-named fughetta “La Vivacité.”
The title of our other Couperin selection, Les folies françoises, most likely alludes to the folia (literally, “madness”), originally a Portuguese masquerade dance performed on certain feast days. As the dance spread beyond the Iberian peninsula, it evolved into the more stylized Folies d’Espagne (“Spanish follies”), a framework for continuous variations on an 8-bar harmonic progression. The best-known folia variations are, of course, those by Arcangelo Corelli, Couperin’s model for his Italianizing music. While the harmonic scheme of Couperin’s “French follies” bears a strong family resemblance to the “Spanish” (or Italian) model, the music is, as always, Couperin’s own and, in this instance, much more French than Italian. Again, the titles of the variations invite speculation: the dominos—masqueraders’ cloaks—suggest a masked ball, but the sequence of titles also suggests the progress of a love affair that ends badly, if not tragically.
For the first of our vocal selections, we’ve chosen a French cantata by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair. Based on a Greek myth that has come down to us through Ovid’s Metamorphoses, “Pan et Sirinx” tells the story of the origin of the panpipes (and, perhaps, of reed instruments in general). The story takes place in the pastoral setting of Arcadia and opens with a rather wistful paean to young love, followed by a hunting scene complete with horn calls. The motif of unrequited love—or, seen from the other side, the nymph’s escape from the god’s unwelcome advances—is expressed most affectingly in Pan’s aria “Restes plaintifs,” accompanied by recorder and viola da gamba without continuo. The mood of this da capo (ABA) aria shifts abruptly in its middle section, as a more animated Pan considers the possibilities of the reed pipes as a catalyst for love before returning to his lament. But the lament is immediately followed by another paean to love—this one indicating that, in lending her weapons to a loftier purpose, the huntress Syrinx has triumphed after all.
The pastoral element—notice the characterization of Myra as “nymph”—is also present in Johann Pepusch’s “Love frowns in beauteous Myra’s eyes,” one of a set of English cantatas scored for solo voice with one or more obbligato instruments plus continuo. Like Montéclair’s cantatas, Pepusch’s follow the Italian model of da capo arias alternating with recitative, and the German-born Pepusch notes in his preface that, in setting poetry of his adopted language within an Italianate form he is following the example of French composers. “But,” he adds, “altho’ the English Tongue is not so Harmonious as the Italian, I think it has the Advantage [over] the French!” “Myra’s” tuneful arias, admittedly, may not be quite the best exemplars of Pepusch’s not-inconsiderable skill at setting English verse. But his setting of the central recitative captures the lover’s turmoil and helplessness in the face of fickle Myra’s charms. And his contrapuntal skills are evident in the interplay of voice and instruments, particularly in the opening aria.
With our concluding selections we turn from purely-human love to the love of God as revealed in nature. The texts of Handel’s “Nine German Arias” are taken from a collection of cantata texts by the composer’s friend Barthold Heinrich Brockes. All express the poet’s Pietist bent as well as a love of nature, and their overarching theme is the beauty of earthly creation as evidence of the divine. In “Süsse Stille,” from a cantata text entitled “Contemplation of moonlight on a fine spring night,” the tranquil A section gives way to more animated and disjunct melodic lines over more active harmonies as the poet anticipates the joys of eternity. In the exuberant “Meine Seele hört,” text and music celebrate the beauty of spring, pausing only briefly to meditate on the “language of Nature” before returning to celebration.
Montéclair: Pan et Sirinx (sung in French)
In flourishing Arcadia, Syrinx radiated charm, [but] she was losing the loveliest days of her life: she was young and not in love.
Ephemeral beauty fades without love. Venus gives pleasure to those who are of an age to love. Smiling youth owes homage to love, and the best times are born out of love.
Syrinx flees from [love’s] tender bondage. She embraces the law of chaste Diana. Night often finds her in a crude hut, hunting the inhabitants of the forest.
[ Air]: Lent et mesuré. [narrator, addressing Syrinx]
Stop harrassing the untamable beasts; deliver sweeter and surer blows. The arrows that leave your hands aren’t the most powerful.
[ Sinfonia]: Modéré.
The sun gilds the mountaintops. The nymph arms herself with a quiver. Soon she is searching for her faithful companions, and [she] wakes them by singing.
Air: Gay [Syrinx]
The goddess [Diana] calls us; the horn sounds to assemble us together. Let’s kill the most unyielding beast! May the deadly arrow fly and pierce instantaneously. Oh, gods! Syrinx will be proud of her magnificent triumph.
Syrinx is already running across Mount Erimanthus. Pan sees her, loves her, and pursues her. The raging billows of a violent river soon stop the fleeing nymph. Her cries pierce the air. “Help me,” she says, “chaste water-gods!” Heavens! What new marvel.... The god [Pan] believes in vain that he’s embracing the cruel one, [but] he clasps only reeds.
Arioso: Lent. [narrator]
He moans, he laments; the reeds answer him. He fills them with his sighs. Oh, gods! Such yearning mingles with his sighs! One might say that Syrinx wishes to gratify his desires.
Air: Lentement et tendrement. [Pan, addressing the reeds]
Doleful remains of the object of my adoration, wretched echoes of my feeble cries, it’s through you that Syrinx can still speak to me. Preserve such tender tones forever. May the pleasing sounds you make ignite the most beautiful fires [of love]! Make the shepherdess more loving; make the shepherd more blissful.
Air: Gay. [narrator]
Love, you possess only charms. Whoever follows your law [is] very happy. Syrinx lends you the weapons; you triumph in our forests. You cause no suffering; you anticipate all desires; and the lover takes on chains only from the hand of pleasure.
Pepusch: Love frowns in beauteous Myra’s eyes (sung in English)
[ Aria]: Affettuoso
Love frowns in beauteous Myra’s eyes, ah! Nymph, those cruel looks give o’re.
While Love is frowning, Beauty dies, and you can charm no more.
Love frowns, etc.
Mark how when sullen Clouds appear, and wintry Storms deface the Year
The prudent Cranes no longer stay, but take the wing and thro’ the air
From the cold Region fly away, and far o’re Land and Seas to warmer climes repair,
Just so my heart, but see, ah! no, she smiles, I will not, cannot go.
Love and the graces smiling, in Myra’s eyes beguiling,
Again their Charms recover.
Wou’d you secure our Duty, let kindness aid your Beauty,
Ye fair to sooth the Lover.
Love and the graces, etc.
Couperin: Les folies françoises
Virginity, cloaked invisibly
Modesty, cloaked in pink
Passion, cloaked in crimson
Hope, cloaked in green
Fidelity, cloaked in blue
Perseverance, cloaked in flaxen grey
Languor, cloaked in violet
Flirtation, cloaked in various colors
The aged swains and cast-off courtesans, cloaked in purple and dead leaves
The kindly cuckoos [a euphemism for “cuckolds”], cloaked in yellow
Taciturn jealousy, cloaked in dark grey
Frenzy and despair, cloaked in black
The suffering soul
Handel: Selections from Neun deutsche Arien (sung in German)
Sweet quiet, gentle source of calm serenity!
Even my soul is joyful when I, after this time of futile toil, contemplate the peace that awaits us, that is prepared for us for eternity.
Sweet quiet, etc.
Meine Seele hört
My soul hears, through seeing, how, in order to glorify the Creator, all things rejoice, all laugh.
Just look: Spring’s blossoming magnificence is the language of Nature that she [Nature] clearly, through sight, speaks to us everywhere.
My soul hears, etc.
return to home page.