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Pierre GUÉDRON (c1565-c1620): "Airs de cour"

Claudine Ansermet, soprano; Paolo Cherici, lute

rec: Oct 1995, Bologna, Eremo di Ronzano
Glossa - GCD C80007 (R) (© 2013) (70'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Robert BALLARD (1575-c1648): Première entrée de luth; Cinquiesme entrée de luth; Antoine FRANCISQUE (1570-1605): Prélude; Pierre GUÉDRON: Aux plaisirs, aux delices bergeres; C'en est fait je ne verray plus; Ce penser qui sans fin; Cessés mortels de soupirer; Donc ceste merveille des cieux; Doncques par force; En fin le juste Ciel; Je voudrois bien chanter; Lors que Leandre amoureux; Quand premier je la veis; Quel espoir de guarir; Quel excès de douleur; Quoy? faut-il donc qu'Amour; Si jamais mon ame blessée; Soupirs meslés d'amour; Un jour l'amoureuse Silvie; Elias MERTEL (?) (c1560-1626): Praeludium 3; Praeludium 93; Praeludium 97; Praeludium 109; Praeludium 131; Praeludium 175; Praeludium 179; Praeludium 207; Nicolas VALLET (1575-c1642): Prélude III; Prélude VIII; Prélude XIII

This disc is devoted to music which was written in France during the decades around 1600. These years saw the reigns of Henry IV (1553-1610) and Louis XIII (1601-1643). At this time the foundations were laid for the musical splendour which was so much part of the reign of Louis XIV. Pierre Guédron played an important part in the development of musical entertainment at court. In 1590 Henry IV reorganized the musical establishment, and Guédron was appointed maître des chanteurs de la chambre. In 1601 he succeeded Claude Le Jeune as compositeur de la chambre du roi. Other posts were added to that in the ensuing years. He was widely admired as a singer, teacher and composer. His oeuvre comprises a number of ballets and many airs de cour which were published in five books between 1608 and 1620. The last book was published under the supervision of his son-in-law Antoine Boësset which suggests that Guédron must have died in 1620 or the previous year. Unfortunately some of these books have been preserved incomplete.

The airs de cour were for four to five voices, and many of them were originally composed to be performed as part of the ballets which were an important type of musical entertainment. Some of them were arranged later for solo voice and lute, and this is the form which was to become one of the main genres during the 17th century. Such songs were not only performed at court but also in the salons of the aristocracy. Guédron can be considered the father of the style of singing which was to become dominant in France during the baroque era. It reflects the restraint which was a feature of the culture at court and in aristocratic circles. The early decades of the 17th century saw the rise of monody and opera in Italy. In France "taste" was the name of the game, and was often opposed to the Italian style which was considered "excessive". This should be taken into account as far as the performance practice is concerned.

One of the main aspects of the performance of this repertoire is ornamentation. Singers - who often accompanied themselves on the lute - were expected to add ornaments, according to the text and its affects. Moreover, audiences also required some vocal virtuosity, but always within the boundaries of good taste. As Georgie Durosoir explains in the liner-notes this causes considerable problems for a modern interpreter. His or her task is even made harder because there are no treatises from this time which give information about the kind of ornamentation which was used.

Claudine Ansermet specialized in the performance of this repertoire. The result is quite remarkable. She adds quite a lot of ornaments, and brings a great variety to the task. Within a single song she uses a wide array of ornaments. This is certainly inspired by the texts, and that makes it all the more regrettable that the booklet omits English translations of the lyrics. Those who don't understand French or have only a limited knowledge of the language are doomed to miss much of the connection between text and music and between the content of these airs and the way they are interpreted.

Even so, I highly commend this disc. The music is of great beauty: every single air is a gem. Some lovers of early music may recognize a couple of the songs, such as Cessés mortels de soupirer and - one of the most famous of Guédron's songs - Quel espoir de guarir which were recorded decades ago by Nigel Rogers. Claudine Ansermet sings them brilliantly: her breath control is impressive in those songs which are technically demanding. She also has no problems with the wide tessitura which some of the songs require: her voice is clear and flexible in all ranges. She uses historical pronunciation, and she must have been one of the first to do so. Paolo Cherici delivers fine and sensitive accompaniments. Almost every air is preceded by a prelude for lute. The booklet doesn't give any information about the composers. Nicolas Vallet and Robert Ballard are quite well-known but Elias Mertel is known hardly at all. He was of German origin and worked most of his life in Strasbourg. Only one collection of music is known, and this contains no fewer than 235 preludes. It is not certain, though, whether they are written by him as no composer's name is given. This should have been mentioned in the booklet.

The present disc was originally released in the late 1990s at the Italian label Symphonia. Discs of that label didn't find wide dissemination, and there is a good chance that you have missed this one. This reissue offers the opportunity to make up for lost time. Grab it.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

Paolo Cherici

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