musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"Coeur - French airs de cour at the end of the 16th century"

Le Poème Harmonique
Dir: Vincent Dumestre

rec: Feb 3 - 9 & June 9, 2015, Paris, Eglise protestante allemande
Alpha - 213 (© 2015) (64'16")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Allons vieille imperfaite; Ô combien est heureuse (arr Adrian Le Roy); Girard DE BEAULIEU (c1540-1590): Helas que me faut-il faire; Didier LE BLANC (fl 1579-1584): Les mariniers adorent un beau jour; Quel secours faut-il que j'atende; Sus! mon lut d'un accord pitoyable; Jean BOYER (bef. 1600-1648): Que feray-je?; Pierre-Francisque CARROUBEL (1566-1611): Passepieds de Bretagne; Spagnolette; Fabrice-Martin CAIÉTAIN (c1540-after 1578): Mais voyez mon cher esmoy; Guillaume COSTELEY (c1530-1606): J'ayme trop mieux souffrir la mort; Pierre GUÉDRON (c1565-1620): Belle qui m'avez blessé; Bien qu'un cruel martire; Tant et tant il m'ennuye tant; LORENZINI (fl 2nd half 16th C): Fantaisie

Claire Lefilliâtre, soprano; Bruno Le Levreur, alto; Serge Goubioud, tenor; Marc Mauillon, baritone; Mélanie Flahaut, recorder, bassoon; Julien Chauvin, violin; Atsushi Sakai, Sylvia Abramowicz, Françoise Enock, Lucas Peres, viola da gamba; Angélique Mauillon, harp; Vincent Dumestre, theorbo, guitar; Pierre Gallon, harpsichord

The air de cour was one of the main genres of musical entertainment at the French court in the first half of the 17th century. Some composers who contributed to this genre are still well-known, such as Puerre Guédron, Antoine Boësset, Etienne Moulinié and Michel Lambert. The present disc carries us back to the early phase of the genre: the last decades of the 16th century.

The term air de cour was used for the first time by the music publisher Adrian Le Roy who in 1571 published the collection Livre d'air de cours miz sur le luth: songs for voice and lute. He explained that he had adapted simple songs which were known as vaudeville or voix de ville. Some of these were originally written by Nicolas de la Grotte, on texts by Pierre de Ronsard. Until the end of the century various collections of airs de cour were published, but these were all polyphonic. However, they were different from the chansons which were written earlier in that they were simpler, strophic and homophonic. That allowed the text to be more clearly understandable.

These songs were not only performed at the court but were also popular in aristocratic circles such as the members of the house of Lorraine-Guise mentioned in the liner-notes. They were important patrons of the arts, for instance poetry. Several poets were under their protection, among them the above-mentioned Ronsard, but also Jean-Antoine de Baïf, Philippe Desportes and Rémy Belleau. Several of them are represented in the programme on this disc.

Desportes wrote the text of Hélas que me faut-il faire by Girard de Beaulieu. Apparently nothing is known about him; neither New Grove nor the booklet give any biographical information. A contemporary of his was Didier Le Blanc who published 42 airs which he dedicated to the above-mentioned music printer Le Roy. It was followed that same year by a second collection. These are not original compositions but rather four- and five-part arrangements of melodies by other composers set to poems by authors already mentioned. Sus! mon lut d'un accord pitoyable and Quel secours faut-il que j'atende are again on texts by Desportes. Especially interesting is Fabrice-Marin Caiétain: he was of Italian birth and worked as maître de chapelle to Henri I de Guise. He was one of the pioneers of the air de cour; his two books published in 1576 and 1578 respectively were dedicated to his employer.

Better known is Guillaume de Costeley who is mentioned in New Grove as one of the main composers of chansons in his time; the work-list includes a large number of such pieces. However, a number of them fall into the category of the air. Costeley was ordinary organist and valet to Charles IX. He was also associated to Claude-Catherine de Clermont, another important patron of the arts. The latest composer represented in the programme is Pierre Guédron. In 1590 he was appointed maître des chanteurs de la chambre by Henri IV. In 1601 he succeeded Claude Le Jeune as compositeur de la chambre du roi. As a composer he concentrated on writing airs; about 200 of them have survived, collected in six books which were published between 1602-1620. The last book was published under the supervision of Antoine Boësset, his son-in-law who was to become one of the major composers of airs de cour himself.

Most songs are about love. Some are rather sad, such as Sus! mon lut d'un accord pitoyable: "Get up, get up, my lute, with a pitiful chord. Pity the pain that makes me miserable". Caiétain's Mais voyez mon cher esmoy is much more joyful: "But see, my dear emotion, see how many wonders you bring to perfection in me". Guédron's Bien qu'un cruel martire is again about suffering for love but according to the protagonist it is worth it: "Even though a cruel martyrdom makes me listless (...) the cause of it is so lovely that were I to suffer death a hundred times for her, I should not complain". Very different then is the anonymous Allons vieille imperfaite. It is a satirical song about an "imperfect old woman" who is later called "useless", "bearded", "ugly" and "wrinkled", and those are the most civilized qualifications. It seems that it is included here to remind us that the air de cour in its relative simplicity and straightforwardness bears witness to the influence of 'popular' music on the repertoire composed and performed among the highest echelons of French society around 1600.

Le Poème Harmonique delivers wonderful performances. Many stanzas are performed by all four singers, either a cappella or with instruments playing colla voce. The voices blend perfectly; in some stanzas one or more of the parts are embellished. Claire Leffiliâtre and Serge Goubioud also sing some stanzas solo, and they show great sensitivity toward the texts. The latter is simply brilliant in the anonymous satirical song I have just mentioned. The ensemble has avoided to make too much of this repertoire, for instance by over-ornamenting the songs or by including too many and too diverse a range of instruments. These songs reflect the intimacy of the court and the salons in which they were performed. The interpretations also adhere to the rather formal social habits of the time: an extraverted expression of emotions was not appreciated. It is exactly in the relative restraint with which these songs are performed that their qualities are revealed.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Le Poème Harmonique

CD Reviews