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"Mon coeur charmé - The song book of Sophie Erdmuthe von Nassau-Saarbrücken"

Ingrid Schmithüsen, soprano; Markus Schäfer, tenor; Simone Eckert, treble viol; Ulrich Wedemeier, guitar

rec: Oct 28 - 31, 2003, Schloss Erbach/Odenwald
Christophorus - CHR 77265 (© 2004) (69'10")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

[songs in order of appearance]
[Shepherd's Idyll] Viens aurore, je t'implore (122); Depuis que je sais (65); Que ne suis-je fougère (39); Je n'entends plus dessous l'ormeau (189); Depuis que j'ai vu Nanette (125); Mes chers troupeaux (49); Tircis je n'ose (51)
[The Happiness of Love] J'aime une jeune brunette (209); Engagés par le tendre amour (177); N'oubliez pas votre houlette (173); Que je vous aime (220); Sois tous mes dieux (42); Quel embarras hélas, que faire? (135)
[Jealousy] De mon berger volage j'entends le flageolet (99); Un jour sur la fougère (143); L'amant le plus tendre (195); Dedans mon petit réduit (67); Lisette croyant se venger (193); Je soupire, nuit et jour (139); Mon coeur charmé de sa chaîne (71)
[Humorous Songs] Déjà dans la plaine (59); 'L'heureux maladroit', Pierrot dit à Madeleine (69); 'Les douces blessures', L'Amour caché dans un buisson (75); Robin a une vache (219); Tour à tour Licas et Lisette (211); Un jour Maman me dit tout bas (53); Guillot dit à Guillemette (163)
Thomas MARC (fl 1720-1735): Suite for treble viol and bc [1]; Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Sonata for treble viol and bc in G (TWV 41,G6) [2]

Sources: [1] Thomas Marc, Suitte de pièces de dessus et de pardessus de viole et trois sonates avec les basses continües< 1724; [2] Georg Philipp Telemann, Der getreue Music-Meister, 1728-29

The biography of Sophie Erdmuthe von Nassau-Saarbrücken is typical for the life of an aristocratic lady of the 18th century. She was born in 1725 as daughter of Count Georg Wilhelm von Erbach (1686-1757). Her family was culturally sophisticated and had its own orchestra. Her uncle Friedrich Carl took music lessons from Georg Philipp Telemann, when he was music director in Frankfurt. He even set some texts by Friedrich Carl to music. After Telemann had moved to Hamburg he dedicated some of his music to his former pupil.

In 1742 Sophie married: her father arranged the marriage, although she was allowed to choose between four different candidates. She chose Count Wilhelm Heinrich von Nassau-Saarbrücken, and after their marriage they went to live in a palace in Saarbrücken. Whereas her husband made a career as an officer in the French army, she took care of her children. She gave birth to five, two of whom died shortly after they were born.

Sophie was well educated, and had a good knowledge of the French language, and was interested in literature and philosophy. She came into contact with the French Encyclopédistes, one of whom, Denis Diderot, even dedicated one of his plays to her, Père de famille, which promotes the ideas of the Enlightenment in regard to education. The social and political upheaval of the French revolution had a big influence on Sophie's life. The family estates in the upper Saar region were part of an enclave which belonged to the kingdom of France. Sophie, who was often accompanied by French aristocrats who had fled France, moved elsewhere as her subjects were willing to join revolutionary France. The large family library was confiscated.

Part of the inventory was a book with songs, dedicated to her by an unknown person: Recueil d'airs avec accompagnement et guitarr. This book was found by a German scientist in an antique book shop in Paris and handed over to the state archive of Saarland in 1995. This disc contains a selection of songs from this book. All are on French texts, and most are from 18th-century operas by composers like Philidor, Rameau and Rousseau. Unfortunately the booklet doesn't give any information about which composer wrote which song. All pieces are scored for a solo voice with an accompaniment for guitar on a single five-line stave in the notation still used today for guitar. All songs are set for high voice, hence the performance here with soprano or/and tenor.

The songs are divided here into four sections: 'shepherd's idyll', 'the happiness of love', 'jealousy' and 'humorous songs'. They are rather simple and straightforward, and technically not very demanding. The interpreters and the recording engineer are aware of this. The acoustics are very intimate: it sounds like the musicians are performing in a living room for a small audience. The singers also have the right approach as they don't try to do too much. I have the feeling, though, that in particular Markus Schäfer needs some time to adapt to the character of this repertoire. The guitar acompaniment also contributes to the intimate atmosphere of this recording.

As the quality of the songs make it a bit hard to listen to them at a stretch it is nice that two instrumental pieces are added which have a little more substance. Telemann is an obvious choice, considering his ties with Sophie's family. Thomas Marc is a little-known French composer, probably chosen because of Sophie's great interest in French culture. The treble viol was very popular in France in the 18th century and among German composers who were under French influence. It produces a very delicate sound, and Simone Eckert shows a good feeling for this.

I don't know whether to recommend this recording. It gives a good picture of the kind of music which was played and sung in the era preceding the French revolution, but its substance is limited. And for those who don't understand French it is even harder to enjoy these songs as the booklet doesn't give an English translation. As positive as I am about the performances somehow I don't think I am going to listen to this disc very often. Therefore it seems to me most suitable for those who have a special interest in the culture of the 18th century, but far less for the public at large.

Johan van Veen (© 2007)

Relevant links:

Markus Schäfer
Simone Eckert

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