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"Bien que l'amour - Airs sérieux et à boire"

Les Arts Florissants
Dir: William Christie

rec: Dec 21 - 23, 2013, Vincennes, Conservatoire (Auditorium)
Harmonia mundi - HAF 8905276 (© 2016) (80'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D/E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Honoré D'AMBRUYS (fl c1650-1700): Le doux silence de nos boisd [2]; Marc-Antoine CHARPENTIER (1643-1704): Auprès du feu (H 446)a [8]; Ayant bu du vin clairet (H 447)ce [4]; Beaux petits yeux d'écarlate (H 448)cde [7]; Intermèdes nouveaux du Mariage forcé (H 494)cde; François COUPERIN (1668-1733): Épitaphe d'un paresseux (Jean s'en alla comme il était venu)ad [5]; Les Pèlerinesabcde [6]; Joseph Chabanceau de LA BARRE (1633-1678): Quand une âme est bien atteinteb [1]; Michel LAMBERT (1610-1696): Ah! Qui voudra désormais s'engager?abe [3]; Bien que l'Amour fasse toute ma peineabcde [3]; Chantez, petits oiseaux dans la saison nouvelleabcde [3]; D'un feu secret je me sens consumerabcde [3]; Il est vrai, l'amour est charmantabe [3]; Il faut mourir plutôt que de changerabde [3]; Iris n'est plus, mon Iris m'est raviec [3]; Jugez de ma douleur en ces tristes adieuxac [3]; Le repos, l'ombre, le silenceacde [3]; Pour vos beaux jeux, Iris, mon amour est extrêmeacd [3]; Que d'Amants séparés languissent nuit et jourbcde [3]; Tout l'Univers obéit à l'Amourabcde [3]

Emmanuelle De Negri, dessusa; Anna Reinhold, bas-dessusb; Cyril Auvity, haute-contrec; Marc Mauillon, basse-tailled; Lisandro Abadie, bassee
Florence Malgoire, Tami Troman, violin; Myriam Rignol, viola da gamba; Thomas Dunford, theorbo; William Christie, harpsichord

Sources: [1] Joseph Chabanceaux de La Barre, Airs à deux parties, avec les seconds couplets en diminution, 1669; [2] Honoré d'Ambruys, Livre d'airs ... avec les second couplets en diminution mesurés sur la basse continue, 1685; [3] Michel Lambert, Airs à une, II, III et IV parties, 1689; [4] Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1704; François Couperin, [5] Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1706; [6] Recueil d'airs sérieux et à boire, 1712; Marc-Antoine Charpentier, [7] Meslanges de musique latine, françoise et italienne, 1726; [8] Meslanges de musique latine, françoise et italienne, 1728

This disc is devoted to one of the main genres of secular music in 17th-century France, the air de cour. As the name indicates such songs were originally performed at the court, but their popularity was such that they were also sung in the salons of the higher echelons of society.

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. 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. The ensemble Le Poème Harmonique devoted a disc to the early stages in the history of the air de cour.

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 latter's songs are the core of the present disc which also includes some songs by his contemporaries Marc-Antoine Charpentier and Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre as well as late specimens of this genre, from the pen of François Couperin and Honoré d'Ambruys.

Lambert was educated as a choirboy in the chapel of Gaston d'Orléans, the elder brother of King Louis XIII. In the 1640s he started to make a career as a singer in Paris, where he enjoyed the patronage of several people, among them Cardinal Richelieu. He married a singer, and it is probably through his sister-in-law, also a famous singer, that he had access to the court. In 1651 Lambert performed as a dancer in ballets at the court of Louis XIV, who had become formally King in 1643. His first airs de cour were printed in collections published by Christophe Ballard in the 1650s. The first publication which was entirely devoted to his own airs appeared in 1660. From 1661 until his death he held the position of maître de la musique de la chambre du roi. He cooperated with Jean-Baptiste Lully, his son-in-law, for whose ballets he composed récits and dialogues.

Lambert's collection of airs of 1660 is dedicated to Monsieur de Niert, a nobleman and courtier as well as a singer and singing teacher. He had a strong influence on Lambert, who was one of his students. From 1633 to 1635 he had visited Rome and was struck by the dramatic singing in the Italian opera. His ideas about the connection between text and music, a natural prosody and clarity of pronunciation and declamation derived from what he had heard in Italy.

The air de cour is the general term for two different kind of songs: the air sérieux and the air à boire. Lambert's songs fall into the first category: 'serious' songs about the trials and tribulations of love. They are mostly of a pastoral nature. We meet the likes of Sylvie and Iris, and zephyrs (winds) and the nightingale also turn up. These are typical features of the secular music of the 17th century, and would later be included in the French chamber cantata of the early 18th. He sometimes used anonymous texts but also lyrics from the pen of famous poets, such as Quinault (Chantez, petits oiseaux) and La Fontaine (Tout l'Univers obéit à l'Amour). The largest and best-known part of his songs is for solo voice. Ombre de mon amant and Vos mépris chaque jour are often performed and recorded. However, the largest part of his output is seldom, if ever, performed, and that goes in particular for the songs for several voices and bc, often including ritornellos for two violins. This part of Lambert's oeuvre is the subject of this disc.

The scoring for various voices allowed for a use of harmony for expressive reasons, one of the traits of the Italian influence in his oeuvre. The same goes for the different combinations of voices and the change in scoring within a piece, for instance opening with a section for solo voice which is followed by one for ensemble. Parts of the text can be repeated in a slightly different scoring, and alongside the binary form (AABB) Lambert makes use of the form of the rondeau.

The Italian influence on the genre of the air de cour also comes to the fore in the oeuvre of Joseph Chabanceau de La Barre. He was an organist by profession; in 1656 he succeeded his father Pierre as organist of the royal chapel. It is telling that he composed a song on Italian text which was taken for a composition by Luigi Rossi; it was published in 1678 and a favourite of Louis XIV which puts the generally-held idea - not incorrect as such - that Italian music was disliked in France into some perspective. Quand une âme est bien atteinte also documents La Barre's Italian leanings as this song in two parts is based on a passacaglia and includes modulations and chromaticism. The late Henri Ledroit devoted a disc to songs by La Barre (Solstice, 1989).

The other songs are specimens of the genre of the air à boire, the 'drinking song'. This should not be taken too literally. Most of the songs recorded here are not about drinking. They are characterised by "irony and even burlesque", as the liner-notes state. This genre is represented by the songs from the pen of Charpentier. Ayant bu du vin clairet is the only song which refers to drinking, and it is also a song where we find the irony the liner-notes refer to. The burlesque is represented with Beaux petits yeux d'écarlate which is about "old Proserpina". The song ends with the lines "May plague infect her, kill her dead and kick her into her very own grave". It is performed here in a theatrical manner, and rightly so. Such songs remind us of the theatre, and the Intermèdes nouveaux du Mariage forcé fit well into this part of the programme, even though this piece is not ranked among the airs de cour but the 'Intermèdes and incidental music' in the catalogue of his works. "Charpentier brought his sense of derision and parody into play in two gems, the trio 'La la la bonjour' where he mocks Italian actors, and the air 'Oh la belle symphonie' where he parodies a ludicrous concert with a generous sprinkling of onomatopoeia" (booklet).

François Couperin also contributed to this genre, and this part of his output is by far the least-known. Épitaphe d'un paresseux is about Jean, a lazy man who split his time into two halves: he " wisely chose to spend one fast asleep, the other doing naught." Les Pèlerines tells the story of three "pilgrim maids" travelling to the temple of love. This piece also appears in a version for harpsichord in the Premier livre de clavecin.

The least-known composer is Honoré d'Ambruys, who was active as a singing teacher. As he was a pupil of Lambert we return to our starting point. To him he dedicated his Livre d'airs avec les seconds couplets en diminution of 1685. From this collection Le doux silence de nos bois is taken; its foundation is a ground bass consisting of a ten-bar ascending scale which is repeated four times. As the title of the collection indicates the song's second part includes diminutions on the melodic line of the first.

This disc is highly important as it sheds light on a repertory which is hardly known. As I wrote above, only a small part of Lambert's airs de cour is performed once in a while, and almost exclusively his solo songs. The focus on the ensemble pieces here makes this disc even more interesting. The airs à boire are a special category which is given little attention. Their connection to the theatre is emphasized here by theatrical performances. This part of the programme comes off best, especially as here the male singers take the main parts. Stylistically they are the most convincing. The two ladies are a little less so, for the obvious reason which damages so many recordings: an incessant vibrato which is not very wide but clearly noticeable and which is especially problematic in ensemble pieces. However, it didn't completely spoil my enjoyment. Lambert's songs are wonderful stuff and that comes clearly off here. I also note with satisfaction that William Christie decided to use historical pronunciation, something I haven't heard in earlier recordings. This disc as a whole is very enjoyable and makes one wish for a more thorough exploration of this repertoire, not only in the oeuvre of Lambert but also in that of other composers of airs de cour, such as La Barre and those I mentioned above. This disc is a good start.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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Les Arts Florissants

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