ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with STEPHEN REDFIELD, BAROQUE VIOLIN
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 16 March 2013, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 17 March 2013, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
Sonata in Bb major, op. 5/4 Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764)
Allegro ma non troppo
violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo
IIIe Suite, in E minor Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)
L’Impérieuse (the haughty one): fièrement et piqué (proudly and with dotted rhythm)
La Puce (the flea): pièce en rondeau (piece in rondeau form)
La Navette (the weaving shuttle): bourrée en rondeau (bourrée in rondeau form)
La Flagorneuse (the flatterer, or toady): pièce en rondeau
La Belliqueuse (the martial, or quarrelsome one): Allemande: vivement (allemande: lively)
Le Parnasse, ou L’apothéose de Corelli: Grande Sonade en Trio François Couperin (1668-1733)
(Mount Parnussus, or the apotheosis of Corelli: grand trio sonata)
Corelli au pied du Parnasse prie les Muses de le recevoir parmi elles: gravement
(Corelli, at the foot of Mount Parnassus, begs the Muses to welcome him into their
Corelli, charmé de la bonne réception qu’on lui fait au Parnasse, en marque sa joye. Il continue
avec ceux qui l’accompagnent: gaÿment
(Corelli, delighted at his favorable reception at Parnassus, expresses his joy. He
proceeds on with his followers: gaily)
Corelli buvant à la source d’Hypocrêne. Sa troupe continue: notes égales, et coulées, et
(Corelli, drinking at the fount of Hippocrene [for poetic inspiration]. His entourage
goes on: even notes, and flowing, and at a moderate pace)
Entouziasme de Corelli causé par les eaux d’Hypocrêne: vivement
(Ecstasy of Corelli, brought on by the waters of Hippocrene: lively)
Corelli après son entouziasme s’endort; et sa troupe jouë le sommeil suivant tres doux: notes
égales et coulées)
(Corelli, after his ecstasy, goes to sleep, and his entourage performs this very soft
music: even, flowing notes)
Les Muses reveillent Corelli, et le placent auprès d’Apollon: vivement
(The Muses awaken Corelli and place him next to Apollo: lively)
Remerciment de Corelli: gaÿment
(Thanks given by Corelli: gaily)
oboe, violin, basso continuo
Sonata in C minor, op. 3/5 Jean Baptiste Loeillet de Gant (1688-c. 1720)
violin, basso continuo
Sonata in G minor, op. 51/6 Boismortier
Minoetto Io , IIo , and IIIo
Sonata in Bb major, “L’Apollon” Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747)
oboe, recorder, violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo
Every composer represented on our program this weekend worked in France and, with the exception of the Belgian Loeillet, was born there. Yet every one of them submitted to Italian influences in his music. No surprise, really: by the 18th century, despite nationalistic pride and a knee-jerk tendency of French writers to deny any outside sway over them, it had become nearly impossible to resist the attraction of Italian verve and virtuosity and, further, of the supremacy of the violin in that expression. Still, it’s telling to examine our composers according to their birth years, for those Italian influences changed and intensified in time.
Jean-Féry Rebel, born in 1666 into a musical family with strong ties to the royal court, was a violinist, keyboardist, conductor, and composer under the tutelage of the dominating French (Italian by birth!) composer Jean Baptiste Lully. Whatever influence Italian music had on Rebel likely came from Italian musicians invited into Paris rather than from specific composers. According to a contemporary critic, Rebel combined Italian fire with French tenderness, while he avoided the “frights” and “monstrosities” that this critic heard in Italian music.
To be sure, Rebel furnished his own monstrosities in his most shocking orchestral dance suite, Les Elémens, composed when he was 71 years old. There, the musical depiction of chaos opens with a chord including, simultaneously, all seven notes in a diatonic scale—nowadays found in figured bass notation on a popular harpsichordist’s tee-shirt as 6b 5 4 3 2 7#. Another suite, Les caractères de la danse, which ABP performed with dancers in 2002, joined brief examples of French stage dances end-to-end, the whole designed to demonstrate the charm and skill of a particular female dancer. Rebel’s other innovations, though less overt, were remarkable: he was daring in his use of instrumental color, harmony, and rhythmic effects.
At court, Rebel’s main function as a composer was to supply chamber music, and he did so by using an Italian genre, the sonata. His Recueil de 12 sonates, published in 1713 but consisting of pieces written as early as the 1690s, comprises five solo violin sonatas and seven trio sonatas. Some of them have separate viola da gamba parts, as does our selection. Each sonata in the Recueil sports a title, most from classical mythology or legend. One would be hard-pressed to find a rationale for the titles, though it’s no great stretch to believe ours, “L’Apollon,” refers to Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” since Apollo was the sun god.
François Couperin, just two years younger than Rebel, spent only part of his time at court. Thus, he was probably more vulnerable to the mania for Arcangelo Corelli’s sonatas and trios that swept through Paris in the 1690s. Couperin’s earliest sonatas, which he usually called concerts, date from that time although they, like Rebel’s, weren’t published until later. Unlike Rebel, Couperin had a plan that he was willing to publicize: to ally the restraint of the French taste with the gusto of the Italian in what he termed “les goûts réunis.” In reality, Couperin rarely synthesized the two styles; rather, he employed them as contrasts, attempting wholeheartedly to consider them as equals.
Le Parnasse was appended to the 1724 printing of Couperin’s ten Nouveaux concerts, which was a continuation of the set of four concerts from 1722. As the titles of the sections illustrate, this “grand trio sonata” is a piece describing the acceptance of Corelli into the exalted circle of the Muses on Mount Parnassus. Couperin deliberately called it by a Frenchified Italianate term, a sonade—Italian, yes, but French musical traits aren’t at all absent. A year later, in 1725, Couperin issued a second trio, which he called by the French term concert—yet not without Italianisms!—in honor of Lully, narrating Lully’s advance into that same inner circle of the Muses, his meeting with Corelli, and the merger of French and Italian styles resulting in peace on Mount Parnassus—a reference to the polemical wars being waged by proponents of one style or the other. Apollo, aka the Sun King, plays a role, serving as mediator and counselor.
The next generation of composers in France, born about 20 years after Rebel and Couperin, came into a different world. The hegemony of the royal court was waning—Louis XIV died in 1715, and his successor didn’t support music to the same degree—and foreign influence, especially from Italy, was broadening.
Jean Baptiste Loeillet was Belgian but worked for most of his productive life for the archbishop in Lyons. (He took on “de Gant”—from Ghent—as part of his name to distinguish himself from his cousin, also a Jean Baptiste, who was a successful London musician.) We know little about Loeillet’s life, but his 48 recorder sonatas were first published in Amsterdam in the 1710s and then, quickly, in London, so obviously they were well-liked. Most are indebted to Corelli’s style. Our selection is in fact quite Corellian, structured like a sonata da chiesa, or church sonata, including one named dance movement—not uncommon in Corelli’s church sonatas—and a poco allegro intruding in the slow-fast-slow-fast pattern. It seems apt to perform this sonata on violin.
That Loeillet worked outside of Paris possibly explains his somewhat old-fashioned reliance on Corelli as his Italian model. Not so for Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, who was decidedly not a court composer and who followed whatever fashion was au courant rather than any specific ideal. In his mid-30s, Boismortier moved to Paris, where he self-published hundreds of sets of compositions and marketed them directly to the public. He became wealthy and popular. His haunts and venues were the rapidly arising fairs, where there were theatres and outdoor stages for a new, non-courtly kind of music. Boismortier’s music is tuneful, elegant, and charming—all hallmark characteristics of the emerging Italianate late Baroque or “pre-classical” style. Moreover, Boismortier cultivated a “simple” garden-plot of musical devices accessible to performers of moderate abilities and a harmonic and structural clarity appealing to listeners of little formal training. This isn’t to say that his music isn’t worth a sou—witness its popularity then and now!
Both of our selections by Boismortier show genuine warmth and wit and present occasional challenges. The keyboard suite, one of only four by Boismortier, contains five fairly brief pieces, three of them in a favored French form, the rondeau, where the opening section recurs between other sections. Two movements are dances, a bourrée and an allemande, and all are character pieces, expressing a mood or even...an annoying insect. Boismortier’s op. 51, a set of duos originally for flute and violin, includes two types of dances but gives both of them Italian names.
We arrive at the youngest of our French composers, Jean-Marie Leclair, born about 30 years later than Rebel and the venerable Couperin. The events of Leclair’s life may seem to overshadow his importance as a composer: his training as a dancer and lacemaker as well as a violinist, his querulousness, his difficulty with his employers and his fellow musicians, and his murder in the dark of night almost certainly by his nephew.
Yet it’s his music that’s really of significance. Leclair traveled quite a bit—to England, Germany, Italy, and within France—and worked in foreign parts, even in Turin. By the 1730s, Corelli was a ghost of the past, venerated but largely forgotten in favor of pulse-racing music by traveling violin virtuosos, notably Locatelli. Indeed, Leclair once performed with Locatelli, and that Italian’s influence was strong on Leclair’s op. 5 sonatas. Leclair knew the “goûts réunis” and, probably more often than Couperin, achieved a synthesis of them. His music requires considerable technical finesse and agility but retains a very Gallic tenderness. Today he is regarded as the first great composer and performer in the French violin school.
Finally, a word about the pitch level we’re using this weekend: A = 392, a full tone lower than modern pitch (A = 440). There are certainly convincing aesthetic reasons for performance at a lower pitch: it cools the music, darkens it, relaxes it. Admittedly, it’s true that both “French Baroque pitch” at A = 392 and “standard” Baroque pitch at A = 415 are to some extent conveniences for our contemporary instrument-builders, performers, and concert-hall conventions. There is, however, solid historical evidence for performing French chamber music at a pitch lower than A = 415. By the second half of the 17th century, France had developed several different pitch standards that were used in different milieus: theatre, church, outdoors, and chamber. The lowest-pitched of these, A = 392, was for opera and church music; outdoor music was played about a half-step higher than A = 440; and chamber music was performed somewhere between A = 392 and A = 415. Even as Italianate brilliance overshadowed the French preference for a more natural style, A= 415 didn’t supplant the lower French pitch for chamber music until very late in the 18th century. All these findings are based on the extensive research carried out and published by Bruce Haynes.