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Jean-Baptiste Lully and his influence

[I] "The Lully Effect"
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Barthold Kuijken
rec: Jan 21 - 24, 2013, Indianapolis, IN, University of Indianapolis (Christel DeHaan Arts Center, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall)
Naxos - 8.573867 (© 2018) (62'47")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Armide (LWV 71) ([prologue] ouverture; [V,2] passacaille); Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764): Dardanus (RCT 35) ([prologue] ouverture; air pour les Plaisirs I/II; air gracieux; tambourin I/II; [I,3] air vif; rigaudon I/II; [III,3] air gay en rondeau; menuet I/II; tambourin I/II; [IV,2] Sommeil; air très vif; Calmes des Sens; gavotte vive; [V,3] chaconne); Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767): Overture in e minor (TWV 55,e3)

Barbara Kallaur, Leela Breithaupt, transverse flute; Sung Lee, MaryAnn Shore, oboe; Stephanie Corwin, bassoon; Allison Edberg Nyquist, Janelle Davis, James Andrewes, Matvey Lapin, violin; Martha Perry, violin, viola; Alisa Rata-Stutzbach, Rachel Gries, Brandi Berry, viola; Christine Kyprianides, basse de violon; Lara Turner, cello; Philip Spray, violone; Thomas Gerber, harpsichord

[II] "The Versailles Revolution"
Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra
Dir: Barthold Kuijken
rec: Oct 11 - 14, 2014, Indianapolis, IN, University of Indianapolis (Christel DeHaan Arts Center, Ruth Lilly Performance Hall)
Naxos - 8.573868 (© 2018) (62'19")
Liner-notes: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jean-Baptiste LULLY (1632-1687): Roland (LWV 65) ([prologue] ouverture; gigue; [II,5] gavotte - air; second air; [III,6] chaconne; [IV,3] marche; menuet I/II); Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Ariane et Bachus ([prologue] ouverture; premier air pour la suitte de ma symphe; bourée pour les mesmes - air; gigue; air; rondeau pour les plaisirs; [II,5] marche pour la suitte de Bacchus; [II,6] chaconne; [III,6] simphonie du Sommeil; air pour les songes; air pour les flutes; [III,8] entracte); Georg MUFFAT (1653-1704): Fasciculus I 'Nobilis Juventus oder Adeliche Jugend'

Barbara Kallaur, Leela Breithaupt, transverse flute; Sung Lee, MaryAnn Shore, oboe; Stephanie Corwin, bassoon; Allison Edberg Nyquist, Janelle Davis, James Andrewes, Brandi Berry, violin; Martie Perry, violin, viola; Alisa Rata-Stutzbach, Rachel Gries, viola; Christine Kyprianides, cello, basse de violon; Lara Turner, Malin Sandell, cello; Philip Spray, violone; Thomas Gerber, harpsichord Source: Georg Muffat, Florilegium secundum, 1698

If one looks in New Grove under the header 'orchestra', one finds a long survey of developments in the field of instrumental ensemble, which resulted in the orchestra as we know it today. The modern orchestra has its origin in the mid-18th century, when it gradually developed into a more or less fixed group of instruments. Before that, instrumental ensembles were put together according to the occasion, comprising the number and kind of instruments needed. The development of the 'orchestra' cannot be attributed to a specific country or region. Comparable developments took place in several parts of Europe. However, France did play a key role, and especially Jean-Baptiste Lully's contribution to the development of the orchestra cannot be overestimated. The discs reviewed here focus on his role in the history of the orchestra and his influence across Europe.

Louis XIV gave him, the Italian-born Giovanni Battista Lulli, the task of developing a purely French musical style, especially in the realm of opera, which would distinguish it from what was going on elsewhere, in particular in Italy. The result was the tragédie en lyrique or tragédie en musique, an operatic genre which was to dominate the operatic scene in France until the French Revolution. The orchestra played a key role in such operas. Italian operas were dominated by recitatives and arias, and the orchestra's role was almost entirely confined to the overture and the accompaniment of the singers. In contrast, French operas included a number of ballets, in which the dancers were accompanied by the orchestra. Such music could also be played out of its theatrical context, and this resulted in the birth of suites of overtures and dances. This form was soon imitated by composers across Europe, often at the instigation of rulers, who wanted to copy the splendour of the court of the Sun King. Some composers even went to Paris to study with Lully or to look and listen what was going on there.

These two discs are not so much intended as sequels but are more or less complementary as they shed light on the same development from slightly different angles. In 'The Versailles Revolution' we hear music by Lully and by two composers who were among his pupils and whose music shows his influence. The three works all date from the last 15 years of the 17th century. 'The Lully Effect' spans a longer period and includes music by Jean-Philippe Rameau from the mid-18th century and documents Lully's influence in Germany through an orchestral suite by Georg Philipp Telemann.

Both discs open with music from two of Lully's last three operas, first performed in 1684 (Amadis), 1685 (Roland) and 1686 (Armide). They are based on tales of medieval chivalry rather than stories from Antique mythology. The choice of these subjects was the direct result of Louis XIV's preferences. The king had recently come under the influence of the pious Madame de Maintenon and had reaffirmed his religious faith and his desire to impose Catholic orthodoxy on France.

Lully's operas usually comprised five acts, preceded by a prologue, which sang the praises of the Sun King. The extracts from Roland and Armide demonstrate the features of Lully's style as well as his treatment of the orchestra. From the former opera we hear the overture and a sequence of dances from the prologue and acts 2, 3 and 4. The dances are of the then common kind, such as gigue, gavotte and menuet. Almost every opera - and many instrumental and keyboard suites - included a series of variations on a repeated bass pattern (basso ostinato), either a chaconne or a passacaille. The latter is included in the fifth act of Armide, the former in act 3 of Roland. It needs to be noticed that a number of instrumental movements in Lully's operas are called air. This does not refer to a vocal piece, like aria in Italian operas. The latter are called récit in French operas.

The Lullian opera orchestra comprised strings and woodwind, but its basis was a body of strings. It was in five parts, as usually in the 17th century, but ist was different from the Italian 'orchestra'. The latter comprised two violins, two violas and bass, whereas Lully's orchestra included only one violin, three middle-voices - haute-contre de violon, taille de violon and quinte de violon - and bass. In Italian orchestras wind instruments were included only sporadically, for instance as an obbligato instrument in an opera aria. In Lully's orchestra they took an important place, adding colour by playing colla parte with the strings, but also separately in specific episodes.

The use of the various instruments comes also to the fore in the suite from Ariane et Bacchus, a tragédie en musique, premiered in 1696, by Marin Marais, pupil of Lully and one of the most famous viol players and composers of his time. This suite includes an air pour les flutes, which indicates the role of wind instruments. Titles as Marche pour la suitte de Bacchus and Simphonie du sommeil show that dances were often specifically connected to characters or specific scenes.

Another composer who was strongly influenced by Lully, was Georg Muffat. Whether he was formally a student of Lully is not entirely clear, but he stayed a number of years in Paris, and studied French music and performance practice, which allowed him to give detailed descriptions of the performance practice at the time, for instance with regard to string playing, especially the bowing technique. "These bowing conventions are very different from modern usage and provide a crisp, very rhythmical and highly articulated declamation", Barthold Kuijken states in the liner-notes to 'The Lully Effect'. In addition, Muffat deals with ornamentation. The "ornaments often have the function of consonances in speech; they vary the beginnings of the vowels (or of the syllables) or link them to each other. The result is a much more understandable and emotionally far richer performance of these remarkable compositions. In recent times, Muffat's bowings have sometimes been put into practice, but this application of ornaments - almost never, and then mostly only in the top melody part, whereas Muffat explicitly wants them in all parts. Learning this new, unheard language was very exciting for all of us as performers. I hope it is as exciting to the listener, being able to truly connect this music to the lavish splendour of Versailles".

This shows that Muffat's writings were the key element in Kuijken's approach to this repertoire. He not only applies them to the music by Lully himself, and by Muffat and Marais, but even to Telemann and Rameau. The former's Overture in e minor dates from around 1716; that was the time Telemann became acquainted with the French style and adopted it as his favourite; during his whole career he would stick to his preference for the goût français. That said, the fact that the French style was imitated in Germany does not necessarily imply that the Germans were fully aware of the playing techniques of Lully's orchestra nor does it imply that, if they knew them, applied them. After all, the German orchestras were different from the French. It was rather based on the Italian model, and that has its effect on the sound it produces. In the present recording the Indiana Baroque Orchestra includes three violas for the performance of the middle voices, but these are obviously the same instruments, whereas these voices were played by three different instruments in Lully's orchestra.

Likewise, Kuijken decided to apply the Lullian performance practice to a suite from Rameau's opera Dardanus. He notices that he and other composers of his generation developed their own style, but "[this] process seems to have been much more a - rather slow - evolution than a revolution". To what extent the old practices from Lully's time were still used when Rameau composed his Dardanus (1739/44), is probably hard to say. I am not in the position to shed light on that issue.

Suffice to say that the music on this disc is fascinating stuff and that the way it is performed deserves the attention of any lover of French music. Barthold Kuijken was fascinated by French music, but he "could never understand how Lully's compositions, performed as they stand, could have had such a profound impact on European music history. Did this quite sketchy, bare and neutral-sounding music really have the power to take the world by storm, was this the music that so many European kings or princes wanted to hear and to impress their visitors with in their Versailles-styled palaces?" This was his motivation to have a closer look at the way it should be performed. That has resulted in these discs, which show that there is more in the music by Lully and his followers than meets the eye.

The players of the Indiana Baroque Orchestra deserve much praise for their willingness to accompany Kuijken on his travels in the world of Lully and his sphere of influence. Their account of these orchestral suites is excellent. The lack of truly French instruments is regrettable, but not really decisive. The size of the orchestra is probably a bigger factor. The orchestra in this recording is rather small in comparison with Lully's own orchestra. That has its effect with regard to the balance between strings and wind. As the string body is considerably smaller than in Lully's orchestra, the woodwind is sometimes a little too prominent. That goes especially for the extracts from Lully's Armide.

Recently I reviewed a recording of André Campra's L'Europe Galante, in which the performers also took Muffat's instructions into account. This is a most interesting and stimulating development, which could change our perception of French music under the ancien régime. These two splendid discs attest to that.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Indianapolis Baroque Orchestra

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