Albuquerque Baroque Players
with guest Baroque dancers Linda Tomko and Tim Schettino
choreography by Judith Chazin-Bennahum and Linda Tomko
Ms. Tomko’s costume by Roslyn Moore, Mr. Schettino’s by Dorothy Baca and Kent Spain,
and shepherds’ staffs by S. F. Tomko
MUSIC FROM FRANCE
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 20 April 2002 at Los Altos Christian Church
3 p. m., Sunday 21 April 2002 at the Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
Pavane...............................................................................................................Louis Couperin (c. 1626-1661)
La Steinquerque, Sonade en trio......................................................................François
Gayement. Bruit de guerre
Mouvement de fanfares; Lentement; Gravement
Pièces de violes, in a minor.....................................................................................Marin
Prélude (from Book 3)
La Sautillante et Double. Légèrement (Book 4)
Muzette et 2e Muzette (Book 4)
Grand Ballet (Book 3)
Suonata in D major...........................................................Elisabeth-Claude
Jacquet de la Guerre (1665-1729)
Grave; Vivace e presto; Adagio
Allegro; Adagio; Allegro
Aria affetuoso; Allegro
Les Caractères de la danse...................................................................................Jean-Féry
Prélude; Courante; Menuet; Bourrée; Chaconne; Sarabande; Gigue; Rigaudon; Passepied;
Gavotte; Sonate; Loure; Musette; Sonate
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Frankly, Americans don’t like French music. While this statement may seem audacious, it nonetheless rings true. Under cross-examination, we confess to not understanding the French aesthetic or musical language. French music seems somehow paler or fussier or more elusive than the musics of other European cultures, and especially those of us of Anglo-Saxon heritage prefer a more robust diet of Italian and German music. In particular, the music of the French Baroque, strongly grounded as it is in the dance, with its stylized manners and gestures, and in the French language, subtle, somewhat nasal, and without consistent tonic accent, continues to mystify listeners.
“Continues to” because, admittedly, non-French Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries shared this feeling of mystification—perhaps aversion, for some—even as they eagerly imported French dance steps and promoted the French language as the speech most appropriate for intellectuals. By the late 17th century, all of Europe was debating the relative merits of the two most dissimilar musical styles, the French and the Italian.
One of the hurdles to grasping the French musical character is that it was simply out of sync with stylistic development in other parts of Europe—notably Italy, the seat of the most progressive music. French composers did not make use of basso continuo until about 1650, 50 years later than in Italy. There were no successful stage dramatizations with continuous music until the 1670s—over 70 years later than in Italy. No French sonatas or trio sonatas were composed until the 1690s, and no French cantatas or concertos until the 18th century. Even when these Italian genres were finally taken up in France, composers tended to use dated styles and forms. Well into the 18th century, many French people simply distrusted purely instrumental music, and they were still expresing ambivalence about the combination of serious drama and music on the stage.
But this isn’t the whole story. After all, the French did eventually compose in Italian genres using Italian techniques, and they of course had their own musical traditions. First, the French institutionalized certain style traits. In the area of rhythm, for example, performers must deal with notes inégales (notes written in equal values, but to be played unevenly), the “variable dot” (dotted-note patterns that could range in practice from the barely uneven to the extremely pointed), strings of undifferentiated whole notes decorated with arabesques of enigmatic slurs, white notes beamed like eighth- or sixteenth-notes, notes that deliberately aren’t lined up on the printed page, and the effects of extensive ornamentation and arpeggiation. To be sure, the Italian style implies rhythmic freedom, too, in some kinds of music, but its notation and performance were never regimented to such an extent. It’s tempting to suspect that French national pride was playing a role here: anyone who wasn’t French just wouldn’t understand the conventions, couldn’t crack the secret code. Second, and more cogently, there are in fact very deep distinctions between French and Italian Baroque musics, even when genres and compositional techniques seem to be the same: French music is serene and introverted where the Italian is brilliant and forceful; it’s homophonic where the Italian is contrapuntal; it’s static where the Italian is propelled forward; it’s harmonically rich where the Italian is plain (and, ironically, vice versa!); it’s rhythmically subtle where the Italian is direct; and it’s content to repeat where the Italian is varied. In addition, the demands on the performer, though considerable, are simply less obvious in the French style.
Except for Louis Couperin, the composers represented on our program were acutely aware of the different French and Italian inclinations. Indeed, the pieces by the younger Couperin, by Jacquet de la Guerre, and by Rebel could not have been written without significant Italian influence. By the 1690s, the influence of the famous Italian violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli in France was very pronounced—this same Corelli who shamelessly confessed ignorance of the French style—and French composers began to try their hands at sonatas and trio sonatas. Even so, they adapted these new genres to their native preferences.
François Couperin, the nephew of Louis, left nine trio sonatas and 14 solo sonatas. Though the model is the Corellian church sonata, with its alternating slow and fast movements, Couperin sometimes included the dances and descriptive pieces so favored by the French. Our example, “La Steinquerque,” is mildly descriptive, as it was written to celebrate Louis XIV’s victorious battle in 1692 at Steenkerke, Belgium. The first movement is subtitled “noise of war,” and the fifth movement begins with an equally noisy fanfare—as noisy as four Baroque instruments can make it! Listeners may hear in some movements how ill at ease Couperin was with the trio texture, as the two solo instruments often move parallel to each other rather than contrapuntally, and the second solo instrument sometimes acts literally as a “second fiddle” instead of as an equal partner.
The trio sonata by Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre, also composed in the 1690s, shares the textures and structure of Couperin’s piece. Its harmony, though, twists and bends more than Couperin’s. The composer was the first woman to have an opera performed in France, and she also was a fine keyboardist and singer who published harpsichord pieces and cantatas. After her father, husband, and son had died, she instituted a recital series in her home and remained in the public eye until her death.
Jean-Féry Rebel was another of the French composers of sonatas in the 1690s. The textures of his Caractères de la Danse are similar to Couperin’s and Jacquet de la Guerre’s, but this piece is not a sonata. It is unique because it was meant to be danced for itself, outside of any large-scale spectacle. First mounted for the famous dancer Françoise Prévost in 1715, it was later revived for Marie Sallé in 1725, who presented it in London with Handel conducting, and for Marie-Anne Cupis de Comargo the next year. Presumably, each woman created her own scenario and choreography. At any rate, no dance notation is extant. It’s possible that a male partner was involved, and our choreographers have included one. Because Caractères is a brief piece invented to show off the abilities and sensibilities of the dancer, it offers only snippets of dances, eleven of them. According to dance historian Edith Lalonger, the dances are arranged in a specific order: first, three of the most fundamental dance types; second, three serious dances; and third, five dances that together form a pastoral scene. The humorous insertion of the bustling “sonata” demonstrates Rebel’s grasp of the Italian style. Our choreographers have imagined a scenario that concerns the fitful relationship between an older woman and her younger lover, including her discovery that he’s been unfaithful, his entreaties, and, after some love-play, her rejection of him.
Marais, familiar to modern audiences from the overwrought film Tous les matins du monde, knew the Italian style, too, but largely rejected it. A virtuoso viol player, he published five collections of pieces for that instrument, long out of favor in Italy. The pieces include preludes, dances, tombeaux (musical elegies using dance forms), and character pieces. One of the most famous is his “tableau” describing a gall-bladder operation—without anesthesia, naturally. Our selections are less sensational: a slow prelude and three dance-based character pieces.
Only Louis Couperin remains to be mentioned, the oldest composer on our program and the least likely to have heard much Italian music. His Pavane, a dance form in three parts, is like a tombeau: solemn, with rich harmonies, much dissonance, varied figuration, and expressive ornamentation.
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