ALBUQUERQUE BAROQUE PLAYERS
with STEPHEN REDFIELD, Baroque violin
7:30 p. m., Friday, 7 February 2014, San Miguel Chapel, Santa Fe
7:30 p. m., Saturday, 8 February 2014, Fellowship Christian Reformed Church, Albuquerque
3:00 p. m., Sunday, 9 February 2014, Historic Old San Ysidro Church, Corrales
THE FRENCH CLASSIC ERA
Trios de la chambre du roi, selections Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687)
Dans nos bois Silvandre s’escrie
Menuet—La jeune Iris—Sarabande
Ah quand reviendra t’il
oboe, violin, basso continuo
Gavotte with six variations Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683-1764)
L’Espagnole, selections, from Les Nations François Couperin (1668-1733)
Sonade: gravement, et mesuré; vivement; affetueusement; légerement; gayëment;
air tendre; vivement, et marqué
Bourée et double: gayëment
oboe, violin, basso continuo
Sonata in D major, op. 51/4 Joseph Bodin de Boismortier (1689-1755)
Sonata in G major, op. 1/8 Jean-Marie Leclair (1697-1764)
Allegro: tempo gavotta
violin, viola da gamba, basso continuo
Passecaille, from Sonate à huit Marc-Antoine Charpentier (?1645/50-1704)
recorder, violin, basso continuo
The French came late, in about 1650, to the musical Baroque, and the impetus arrived from abroad, via the importation of Italian compositions, composers, and performers. Even so, Frenchmen clung to the ideal of their own national expression, based on nobility, simplicity, clarity, and grace. It’s ironic though perhaps predictable that, almost as soon as French musicians were securely working within this ideal, Italianisms began to creep in. Indeed, one might argue that they were never really absent. Consider the six composers represented in our repertory this weekend: Lully was an Italian who, though brought to France as a teenager, knew his native music well. Both Charpentier and Rameau studied briefly in Italy. Couperin documented his fascination with Italian styles and genres and his own attempts to combine them judiciously, and a quick glance at our printed program will show that the younger composers Boismortier and Leclair even favored Italian terms over French ones to describe tempo and affect.
This is surely not to say that French composers offered nothing to the Baroque period other than slavish imitation of their Italian peers! Particular performance traditions, ornamentation practices, reinventions of Italian genres such as sonata and opera, and the overwhelming significance of dance rhythms helped to create a distinctive Gallic voice.
Nearly all of Lully’s output was directed at pleasing the “Sun King,” Louis XIV. After some early collaborations with the famous playwright Molière, Lully developed a specifically French version of opera, the lyric tragedy. His 13 productions in this vein were mostly for the court, and they glorified the king as the personification of France. The same is true of Lully’s ballets and other theatre works, all abounding in dances, as Louis was an excellent dancer, just as the composer was. For the private amusement of the king, Lully organized and directed a small ensemble, the petite bande. When Louis entered a more subdued and even morose period later in his life, Lully obligingly furnished the court with religious music.
The brief pieces by Lully that we’ll perform were composed for the king’s everyday activities, such as rising in the morning, being dressed by his ever-present attendants, and retiring for the night. They were intended to entertain, not to deeply move any listener. Lully did manage to include occasional felicities of harmony and phrasing, and he often made use of dance rhythms and well-known French airs, yet the music remains appropriately regal.
Like Lully, Charpentier collaborated with Molière, and he also worked for Louis XIV. Having studied with the renowned Carissimi in Rome, Charpentier was particularly implemental in bringing Latin and vernacular oratorios to France, and he composed his own oratorios as well as cantatas, airs, church music, and divertissements. His stage works, like anyone’s during Lully’s tenure at court, were mounted either outside of Paris or after the older composer’s death, as Lully brooked no competition in the theatre.
In the 1680s, Charpentier and Couperin came to know and appreciate Italian sonatas, especially those by Corelli, and each molded that genre to suit himself and his public. Because Charpentier was so fully involved in the composition and performance of vocal music, he left very few independent instrumental works. Among them is the Sonate à 8, from which we’ll play an excerpt. This multi-section Sonate exhibits concerto-like elements, and with all eight performers, they would be apparent. We, however, have only four, and must thus confine ourselves to the passecaille from near the end of the piece.
Couperin was a lot more productive than Charpentier in the realm of chamber music. His youthful essays in that area emerged after he’d examined Corelli’s sonatas but before he’d developed his concept of “les goûts réunis” (the union of French and Italian styles). Because he was unsure of his compatriots’ reaction to an alien form of expression, he composed several “sonades” based on what he regarded as Italian style and had them performed under disguised versions of his name. He further disguised the Italian inspiration for these sonades by assigning each piece a French title and by using French terminology for each section. Happily, the trios were greeted with applause and followed by a spate of similar efforts by many French composers. Over thirty years later, when Couperin was fully immersed in his mixed styles, he appended French-style suites of dances to three of these Italian-style sonatas, renaming them and adding a fourth such mixed-style piece, and publishing them as Les Nations. La Visionnaire became the opening movement in L’Espagnole. Neither title, by the way, is pertinent to the piece: the original one, while it referred to a theatre work that Couperin’s contemporaries would have known, has nothing to do with the fabric of that play; and the new one will disappoint if one expects to hear anything Spanish.
And let’s face it: Couperin’s Italian style isn’t really Italian, even though he identified and used some of Corelli’s devices, such as sequences, fugal and other contrapuntal writing, short and pithy motives—indeed, too, the very idea of a sonata, a type of instrumental work so foreign to French sensibilities that the philosophe Fontenelle was querulously to demand, “Sonata, what do you want of me?”—that is, loosely, sonata, what good are you to me?
The next generation of French composers internalized Italian influences more fluently, but there was still a conservative element in French society. Rameau, in fact, had a difficult time getting his operas produced because it was said that they weren’t like Lully’s—50-year-old music!—and were too Italianate. Outside of the theatre, though, French public and performers increasingly accepted the new fact of life: Italianisms were there to stay.
When Rameau moved permanently to Paris in 1722, he was regarded as an outsider, a provincial, and to prove himself, he published collections of harpsichord music. Those pieces, arranged in suites, or ordres, just as his predecessors’ had been, are often bold in harmony and sometimes decidedly ungraceful, and they tend toward the overtly virtuosic. These traits aren’t typical of Couperin’s music. Also, Rameau sometimes dispensed with traditional French performance practices, such as notes inégales. His “Gavotte” with its six doubles, or variations, is a case in point. The gavotte rhythm is nearly obscured by Rameau’s variation techniques. Unequal note values would be out of place, as would a lot of added ornaments, and the last several variations are a bit flashy.
Rameau worked off and on for the court, but Boismortier not at all. The latter came to Paris about the same time Rameau did, but he headed for the boulevard theatres and performance spaces. In that milieu, he became extremely popular and very wealthy from the sale of his large output of tuneful sonatas, suites, concertos, cantatas, church music, and stage works. Much of his music was penned for the growing class of amateurs—please, read “lovers of music,” not “those who don’t play or sing well.” Boismortier’s output included several innovations: he was the first to write a French solo flute concerto and the first Frenchman to compose pieces for flute with obbligato keyboard, and he wrote pieces for unusual combinations and atypical instruments—e. g. hurdy-gurdy and musette. Our selection was intended for violin and flute, but, in the manner of the time, other instruments were permitted and even encouraged.
Even a careful listener might be excused for believing that Leclair’s music was composed by an Italian. There’s usually a giveaway, though, and here it’s the Musette, which imitates the soft droning of a shepherd’s small bagpipe. Otherwise, the verve and virtuosity seem brought from across the Alps.
In the popular imagination, the irregularities of Leclair’s life often overshadow his importance. His lace-making family was from Lyon, and he was trained as a dancer. He developed into a fine violinist who toured extensively and whose technique and musical sensitivity were greatly admired, but he had a temperamental nature and repeatedly left posts or was asked to leave. The end came when he was murdered, probably by a nephew, in the dark of night. Leclair’s real significance lies in his violin solos, duos, and trios, and he’s considered the founder of the French violin school.
With Boismortier and Leclair, we have a reached an era of a more international style, a classic style, in which French, Italian, and any other style aren’t so easily distinguishable. What about this word, “classic?” Note that it’s in our program title. If we examine French music history books from the early 20th century—from the time before the “early music movement”—we see that the authors call the late 17th and early 18th century a classic period in France. They don’t much use the word Baroque. Perhaps these authors were rejecting the 18th-century notion of “baroque”: overly charged, unnatural, deformed, ugly. Perhaps they simply had no use for the periodization of music history as set forth by their long-time enemies the Germans, whose terms Renaissance, Baroque, Classic, and Romantic were designated for specific eras. Or perhaps they were using the term “classic” just as we often do, to refer to something that’s lasting and universal in appeal. That’s the way we, ABP, think of this music.