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"Reinas - Airs en espagnol à la cour de Louis XIII" (Airs in Spanish at the court of Louis XIII)

Ensemble El Sol
Dir: Chloé Sévère

rec: April 9 -13, 2019, Vollore-Ville (Puy-de-Dôme), Château
Mirare - MIR496 (© 2019) (62'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Henri DE BAILLY (158?-1637): Yo soy la Locura; Gabriel BATAILLE (1575-1630): Aver mil damas; Claros ojos bellos; De mi mal nace mi bien; Dezid como puede ser; El baxel esta en la playa; En el valle, Ynès la tope riendo; Passava amor; Pues que me das a escoger; Quien quiere entrar conmigo; Rio de Sevilla; Si suffro por ti morena; Vuestros ojos tienen d'Amor; Étienne MOULINIÉ (1599-1676): Ojos si quiereis vivir; Repicavan las campanillas; Si matais quando mirais; Si me nacen colores morena; Si negra tengo la mano; Santiago DE MURCIA (1673-1739): Jacaras Francesca; Las Bacas; Las Penas; Tarantelas; Gaspar SANZ (1640-1710): Clarin de los Mosqueteros del Rey de Francia; Zarabanda Francesca

Dagmar Šašková, mezzo-soprano; Ronald Martin Alonso, viola da gamba; Caroline Lieby, harp; Victorien Disse, theorbo, guitar; Chloé Sévère, harpsichord; Laurent Sauron, percussion

The air de cour was one of the main forms of secular music in 17th-century France. In 1571 Adrian Le Roy was the first to publish a collection of songs that were called airs de cour, to be sung to a lute accompaniment. It was the start of a victory march of the genre in France under the reign of Henry IV (1589-1610) and Louis XIII (1610-1643) respectively. In that period about 2,300 airs were printed. The main representatives of the air de cour were Étienne Moulinié, Pierre Guédron and his son-in-law Antoine Boesset. The texts were obviously in French. However, some composers also wrote airs on Italian and Spanish texts. Chloé Sévère, in her liner-notes, mentions that it was a necessity among the higher echelons of society to speak Spanish and Italian. The Spanish influence in France was partly the effect of Louis XIII's marriage to Anne of Austria, the Spanish Infanta, daughter of Philip III and Margaret of Austria. When she arrived in Paris, she brought with her a large number of Spanish courtiers. It created a fashion for all things Spanish, and this inspired composers to write airs in Spanish, some of which were celebrating the marriage.

However, there is a dark side to it. First, for the composers Spanish was a new language, and they often found it difficult to set texts in Spanish, which manifests itself in things like spelling and misaccentuated word-setting. Second, the French and the Spanish had a relationship that moved between admiration and disdain, as is so often the case between neighbouring peoples that have similar cultures. About ten years ago, Le Poème Harmonique released a disc devoted to Luis de Briceño, a Spanish-born guitarist, who married a French woman and settled in Paris. In one of his songs, he expressed the 'other side' of the French attitude towards their neighbours: "They all make fun of me, and I make fun of all of them, for if they call me an ass, they are fools and idiots."

Two composers who wrote airs in Spanish were Gabriel Bataille and Étienne de Moulinié. Bataille was a lutenist by profession, and was for most of his life in the service of Anne of Austria. Through his family ties he was connected to the publisher Pierre Ballard, who had the privilege of printing music for the court, and this allowed him to publish collections of airs. The first came from the press in 1608. It was to be followed by ten further collections, which included airs of his own pen, but also many pieces by other composers. Among them are also twelve in Spanish; all of them are performed here by the Ensemble El Sol. They are not original pieces; almost all of them are transcriptions of songs by Spanish composers, which Bataille reharmonised. Another composer of Spanish songs was Moulinié, who started his career as a choirboy in Norbonne Cathedral. In his early twenties he came to Paris where his elder brother Antoine worked as a singer in the King's chamber. He helped Étienne to make a career as a musician, and in 1628 the latter became director of music to the King's younger brother, Duke Gaston de Orléans. He held this post until his employer's death in 1660.

This disc is a major contribution to our knowledge of the genre of the air de cour under the reign of Louis XIII and of the connection between France and Spain at the time. The airs were mostly written for solo voice and lute. Here we get performances with an ensemble of viola da gamba, harp, plucked instruments, harpsichord and percussion, playing in different combinations. The various percussion instruments play a prominent role. The booklet includes some information about them and it is argued that they were in use in France at the time. Unfortunately, their application is not discussed. I tend to think that if percussion was used in performances of the songs included here, it may have been mainly in public performances of a more or less theatrical nature, such as ballets. I wonder whether they were used in more domestic environments, such as the salons of the aristocracy, where airs de cour were also sung. The approach chosen by the performers also explains why a number of songs have been harmonised by Chloé Sévère. This may be historically justified (I had liked to read something about that), but I personally would prefer a performance with solo voice and lute.

Another issue is that we get some pieces by Spanish composers of around 1700: Gaspar Sanz and Santiago de Murcia. Chloé Sévère writes: "In Spain in 1701, Philip V acceded to the Spanish throne and married a young princess of French descent, Maria Luisa Gabriella of Savoy, thus creating a new political union between France and Spain. The new queen's music master was none other than the composer and guitarist Santiago de Murcia." So what we have here is the same thing as in France under Louis XIII, but now the other way round, as Murcia composed some music in French style "in homage to his queen" (Jacaras Francesca). Sanz was influenced by various national styles in his time, and he also wrote pieces in the French manner (Zarabanda Francesca). This undoubtedly is quite interesting, but with these pieces we move away from what the title of this disc promises. It would have been better if the performers had confined themselves to the music that was the subject of this disc. And again, one may question the freedom the performers have taken in their interpretation of these pieces, which originally were intended for a single plucked instrument.

Setting these issues aside, this disc is not only interesting, but also musically satisfying, as the ensemble delivers excellent performances. Dagmar Šašková has the perfect voice for these airs, and shows a fine sense of rhythm, which is of utmost interest in these songs, especially if they are performed in a theatrical manner, as is the case here. She has the flair needed for these pieces with a strongly Spanish flavour. The instrumental contributions are also very good. This is certainly a most entertaining disc that will give lovers of French music just as much pleasure as those who have a special liking for Spanish music.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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